Liu Wei - BRIC Theme Sale London Friday, April 23, 2010 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    China entered a period of significant economic and cultural transformation in the years of post-Mao reform. Emerging from this era of change was a group of artists who challenged the Maoist of ideologically-laden, politically controlled works of art. Liu Wei became a prominent figure in the Cynical Realism movement with his reaction against the repressive artistic modes of previous decades. The deliberate accentuation of garish colours and exaggerated forms in Liu Wei’s work reminiscent of Cultural Revolution posters, but the almost caricature appearance of his paintings reveal concerns beyond the façade of propaganda, and embody the disenchanted mood that prevailed in China after the Tiananmen Square tragedy in 1989.

    The male figure in this painting bears a striking resemblance to both Chairman Mao and the artist’s father. Indeed Mao famously swam across the Yangtze Riverin 1966 as an act of propaganda. Mao’s performance was seen as a public display of his health, and by association, the prosperity of his fellow comrades. Rather than being an idealistic image of health and exercise, however, this work reveals an undeniable undercurrent of skepticism, which has literally overflowed into the painted frame.

    The motif of the swimmer would later be adopted in Liu Wei’s Swimmers series, a group of ten larger canvases that appeared in the 1994 Sao Paulo Biennale. A year later, Liu participated in the 46th Venice Biennale of 1995, becoming one of the first Chinese artists to do so.


President Mao crossing Yangtze river

Oil on wooden panel in artist's frame.
32 x 39 cm (12 5/8 x 15 3/8 in).
Signed in Chinese and dated '1991' upper left.

£50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for £277,250

BRIC Theme Sale

23-24 April 2010