Liu Wei - Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, May 31, 2024 | Phillips
  • “The painted canvases seemed so beautiful, so unlike life, so I called this series ‘Purple Air.’ In the Chinese classics, this idea of purple air also refers to a state of haze, a lack of clarity, but actually full of vitality. There are so many problems, but it is still lovely.”
    — Liu Wei



    Monumental in size and layout yet vibrant in its rhythmic variations of lines and colours, Purple Air III No. 2 forms an indelible part of Liu Wei’s dreamlike cityscape series, and his brilliantly inventive, ever-updating revisions of the modern urban world. Towering, dull-coloured vertical lines crowd out our view of a similarly grey sky, giving the impression of an inhuman, over-developed metropolis, with many drips of paint melting across the canvas as if they were still wet and other brighter colours like yellow and green break up the monotony with an expressionist flair. Though the relentless parallel shapes overlap and overwhelm our vision, they exude an exhilarating sense of imaginative freedom and act as a reminder of how art can reshape the world in new ways.



    Ever-Changing Landscapes


    The series’ title derives from a traditional Chinese saying: ‘purple air comes from the east’(紫氣東來), first used to herald the Tao Te Ching’s legendary author. The colour also represents a key Taoist deity who controlled the North Star, and his palace complex in the heavens, the model for the Forbidden City in Liu’s hometown of Beijing. Shades of this prestigious history appear in Liu’s paintings - there is certainly something unearthly in his luminous, floating skyscrapers - but his priority has always been the here and now, the China of his own time: ‘It’s all coming from reality; they are all things you can see …. Cities are reality, all of China is a city under construction i.


    Far from a stable classical past, Liu grew up in an urban and social world constantly undergoing change, which was never more apparent than in the concrete edifices springing up and down all over Beijing, with every skyline altering in any given year. Rather than countering this process in his art, Liu’s work has reflected the ever-changing landscape in his mercurial artistic methods, taking on new media and forms to re-envision urban and modern China in ever-surprising ways. His Library series, for example, moulded massive city ruins out of paperback books, while his famous Landscape photograph (2004), as part of the M+ Sigg Collection, mimicked a traditional Chinese landscape using upturned human buttocks.



     A Modern Method


    “It’s all coming from reality; they are all things you can see. I don’t see making art as a question of creativity, because you can’t really create anything. Everything already exists; it’s just a question of how you see it, from which perspective, good or bad.”
    — Liu Wei

    Though it uses the more familiar medium of oil on canvas, the Purple Air series is no exception to this practice. Always starting from his immediate world, Liu begins each painting by taking photographs of Beijing’s cityscape, which become references for a digital drawing on his computer. His many assistants then transfer the lines onto canvas under his careful supervision, given a much greater scale and dynamism in the process. Striking a balance between spontaneity and precision, the bright colours recall Mondrian’s Transatlantic Paintings - made with meticulous technique and influenced by modern city life- but Liu’s style is more modern still, in tune with the computerised age, closely tied to the changing concrete jungle around him, and visually rhythmic in an ever-unfamiliar manner.




    Piet Mondrian, Composition with White and Red, 1936, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art, A. E. Gallatin Collection, 1952, 1952-61-89




    Collector’s Digest


    Liu Wei was born in 1972 in Beijing, where he still lives and works, and graduated from Hangzhou’s China Academy of Art in 1996. He has garnered worldwide acclaim for his vast, multifaceted interpretations of modern urban life, winning the Award of Art China and Artnet Artist of the Year awards in 2016. His work has been collected by public institutions on multiple continents, including the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, M+ in Hong Kong, the DSL Collection in Paris, National Gallery Victoria in Melbourne, and the Fosun Foundation in Shanghai. He has participated in group exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (2017) and Whitechapel Gallery in London (2015), and has been honoured with solo exhibitions at the Long Museum in Shanghai (2020) and White Cube galleries in Florida (2022) and London (2021). His Purple Air paintings are among his most lucrative, with the present work selling for HK$4,350,000 at Phillips Hong Kong in 2019.




    Jérôme Sans, ‘Liu Wei, an interview’, in China Talks, Beijing, 2009, p. 40.


    • Provenance

      Wedel Fine Art, London
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Phillips de Pury and Company, London, 29 June 2009, lot 129
      Private Collection, Asia
      Christie's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2016, lot 16
      Private Collection, Hong Kong
      Phillips, Hong Kong, 26 May 2019, lot 19
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner


Lot offered with No Reserve

Purple Air III No. 2 (diptych)

oil on canvas, in 2 parts
each 301.6 x 190.4 cm. (118 3/4 x 74 7/8 in.)
overall 301.6 x 380.8 cm. (118 3/4 x 149 7/8 in.)

Painted in 2006.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for HK$1,524,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2027

Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 May 2024