Liu Wei - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • Born in Beijing in 1965, Liu Wei’s upbringing and creative experiences clearly left an imprint on the artist's life, ushered in by the ever-changing conceptual and societal environment resulting from the several drastic social changes in the new China. Liu Wei enrolled in the Printmaking Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1985, just as Chinese society was awakening from the decade-long torment of the Cultural Revolution, returning to humanity from a state of chaos and confusion, and subsequently welcoming the prosperous cultural revival of the country. Living at the centre of this culture, Liu Wei has therefore developed an open and free way of thinking.



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    Liu Wei, You Like Pork?, 1995
    Exhibited in the main gallery of the 46th Venice Biennale, 1995


    In the early 1990s, the illusion of a utopic system once constructed was hit and collapsed by an onslaught of market-oriented reform, making ‘helplessness’ the best analogy for people's living conditions. The sense of boredom brought on by this feeling had prompted a generation of artists, inclusive of Liu Wei, to abandon the grand narratives and the sorrowful seriousness of their predecessors, using observation and cynicism instead to depict a reality that is both banal and absurd. The Revolutionary Family series, created in the early 1990s, was made within this context. After participating in two consecutive Venice Biennales and São Paulo Art Biennial from 1993 to 1995, Liu Wei lessened the political metaphors in his works in the mid to late 1990s while retaining a playful and cynical undertone. He then turned his attention to the realities of everyday life to immerse himself in human nature and to fully understand the long-suppressed emotional impulses in traditional Chinese culture. In 1995, Liu Wei created the visually striking You Like Pork?, which was exhibited in the main gallery of the 46th Venice Biennale, followed by the Who Am I and the No Smoking series, all of which continue this corrupted and chaotic brushwork.



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    Liu Wei, Landscape, 1998


    Created in 1998, You Like Smoking?  is one of the earliest works in the No Smoking series. The No Smoking series was Liu Wei’s main creation from 1998 to 1999, notable for its pink colour, decaying flesh, skulls and English writing symbols: the artist's characteristic traits during this period of creation. In this period, Liu Wei abandoned the application of criticism and cynicism to deconstruct the political forces that weere unique to China, and rather expressed the morbid sense of disorder that characterised the times through a straight forward and intuitive visual language. Continuing the nerve-racking brushwork from his previous series, the use of festering faces and large scales of rotting flesh-like pink colours in the No Smoking series added to the visual effect of collapse and paranoia, and the confusion and anxiety brought about by the loss of spiritual support: a subconscious expression of Liu Wei’s own emotions. You Like Smoking? is not only the debut piece of the No Smoking series, but it also sets the tone for the series’ grotesque and inflated characters. To express the spreading trend of the festering, the artist fills the whole picture with pink, melting the boundary between the flesh and the realistic background. Natural drip of paint is used to depict the blistered and swollen faces. With their sly eyes full of disdain for the world and the fingers clutching a cigarette in unrealistic proportions, obstinate and unruly characters portrayed by Liu Wei in this series seemed to have lived an ordinary life that is so twisted and deviant, that it conveys the disillusionment with the rapid development of society and the spiritual degradation brought about by the consumerist society in the specific context of the time.



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    Chaïm Soutine, Carcass of Beef, 1925
    Collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota, USA 


    In You Like Smoking?, Liu Wei expresses an instinctive and animalistic aesthetic through an expressionist approach, such as the flesh-and-bloody animal carcasses depicted by the 20th century expressionist artist Chaïm Soutine, which are dismembered, distorted to highly distilled abstract forms to express a frenzied, taboo and pessimistic state of mind. Against the backdrop of a disordered and chaotic society, based on inner subjective emotion, Liu Wei boldly exposed the rottenness, ugliness and tension of chaos to the public by forming a subversive aesthetic that makes the paintings a carrier of introspection, unease and loss of control. The artist philosophically questioned death and life, emptiness and decay in his Who Am I series in the mid to late 1990s. The No Smoking series inherits this deep contemplation and shows the dramatic tension of defending oneself as wonderful instead of admitting one's fault. As the debut piece of the No Smoking series, You Like Smoking? on auction this time is a rare piece because of its outstanding expressionism trait and pioneering personal style.



    Francis Bacon, Figure with Meat, 1954
    Collection of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, USA 
    • Provenance

      Private Collection
      Christie's, Hong Kong, 25 November 2007, lot 510
      Private Collection, Europe
      Christie's, Hong Kong, 23 November 2013, lot 56
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Galerie Enrico Navarra, Made by Chinese #7, 13 June - 12 July 2002, p. 90 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Red Bridge Gallery, ed., Liu Wei, Shanghai, 2008, pl. 47, pp. 105, 269 (illustrated)
      Lin & Lin Gallery, ed., Liu Wei: A Solo Painter, Taipei, 2012, p. 93 (illustrated)

Property from an Important Private Asian Collection


You Like Smoking?

signed and dated 'Liu Wei [in Chinese and Pinyin] 1998.' lower centre
oil on canvas
100 x 100 cm. (39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1998.

Full Cataloguing

HK$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for HK$3,780,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021