Liu Ye - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale Hong Kong Thursday, July 9, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Description

    Playtime: A Vision of Innocence and Eroticism
    Connecting the dots between art and sex, love and eroticism, 'Playtime' spans our Evening (Lot 18) and Day Sales (Lots 180-195), encompassing mediums from painting and sculpture, to prints and photography.


  • Provenance

    Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo
    Private Collection, Asia
    Christie's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2008, Lot 438
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Tokyo, Tomio Koyama Gallery, Liu Ye, 2005
    Switzerland, Kunstmuseum Bern, Liu Ye, 2007

  • Catalogue Essay

    “You must keep your love for art. I love to make paintings and I cannot forget this.” Liu Ye
    Quoted by Katy Donoghue in “Liu Ye: Leave Me in the Dark” for Whitewall Magazine, 23 November 2009

    Part of the first generation of contemporary Chinese artists to enter the international art market – as well as one of its leaders – Liu Ye is famed for his paintings of young, oblique girls in mysterious settings. A child of the Cultural Revolution, Liu was born to a playwright father who concealed in his possession a wide array of Western novels, with works by the likes of Leo Tolstoy and Hans Christian Andersen, as well as classical Chinese literature - providing an escape from the government’s restrictions on self-expression and foreign education. He grew up an imaginative child, and this quality combined with the manner of his upbringing in China would later prove a key source of his inspiration and way of seeing: ‘In my earlier days, [inspiration] came from my imagination, childhood memories, and the societal background’ (Liu Ye, quoted in Cheryl Zhao, ‘Artist Liu Ye on His New Catalogue Raisonné and the Rise of Chinese Collectors’, Jing Daily, 10 December 2015, online).

    After completing his studies at the Beijing School of Arts & Crafts, as well as the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Liu would spend an extended period of time in Europe, immersing himself in Western culture and tradition, which would later prove pivotal in the formulation of his artistic ethos. Four years spent at the Berlin Universität der Künste was followed by a six-month residency at the prestigious Rijksakademie and an internship with Delfina Studios Trust in London. It was during these years that he became particularly interested in the work of the Surrealists. Explaining why he was drawn to these artists, Liu elaborated: ‘In my earlier days, my art was more about the imaginary. At that time, I was influenced by Italian Metaphysical Art and Surrealism; René Magritte is one of my favorite artists’ (Liu Ye, quoted in Cheryl Zhao, ‘Artist Liu Ye on His New Catalogue Raisonné and the Rise of Chinese Collectors’, Jing Daily, 10 December 2015, online).

    Girl is a rare piece by Liu, one of only six nude portraits produced between 2000 and 2005, and was included in his landmark 2007 solo exhibition at Kunstmuseum Bern alongside Who is Afraid of Madame L?. Like much of his pieces from this period, in this lot Liu displays a preoccupation with an influence that has come to define much of his work – the influence of the Flemish tradition. Citing Piet Mondrian’s work as a major influence (he himself also completing a residency at the Rijksakademie), he even goes so far as to include his paintings in several of his own pieces as a means of paying homage, one can draw clear parallels between their work for a similar adherence to geometry, rationality and order. In Girl, Liu uses large expanses of pastel mauves and peaches to surround the figure, imbuing the composition with a visceral sense of placidity and meditative silence. Though these fields are not just monolithic blocks of colour, but are moving and hypnotic expanses, containing an indefinite number of nuanced changes in hue and texture, which can only place him in the same tradition of Western painterly masters like Turner and Rothko.

    Liu Ye
    Girl!, 2004
    Private Collection, Switzerland

    Liu Ye
    A View of My
    Teacher's Back
    , 2004
    Private Collection

    Liu Ye
    Who is Afraid of Madame L?, 2005
    Private Collection

    While some of these pictures portray the girls performing mundane activities such as reading, a clear self-reference to his younger years trawling through his father’s library, other compositions like Girl contain overtly sexual references. Not as an attempt by the artist to project his own fantasies through these girls, or to fetishise the female form, they should be viewed only as signifiers of sexuality in Liu’s desire to perfect the rendering of human beauty, as espoused by Johannes Vermeer.

    Johannes Vermeer
    Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (detail), 1657-1659
    Collection of Gemaldegalerie, Dresden
    In truth the Dutch Old Master is perhaps Liu’s chief influence, with him having stated “I love Vermeer very much. He’s my favourite painter …Everything in his work is beautiful” (Liu Ye, quoted by Kris Wilton. in “Liu Ye”, Blouin Artinfo, 13 November 2009). As in Vermeer’s work, the artist shares a gentle yet sumptuous order of colour and brushwork, balanced compositions, and the ability to build narrative within the painting using only a singular figure. In Girl, Liu presents a forlorn, almost surprised girl with wide set eyes, her infantile expression contrasting against her caricaturized breasts and outfit of white, lace underwear and black, heeled shoes. Within the painting the artist builds an internal dialogue that coaxes us into a simple understanding of her innocence, yet also makes us ponder her ambiguous whereabouts and place of origin. Liu’s ideas of simplification, soft nuances and a solitary figures unfold onto each other to create a powerful visual lexicon, one that fits into his persistent study of form and colour subtleties; the artist indeed himself comparing his own creative language to the 26-letter English alphabet.

    Rene Magritte
    Tentative de l’impossible, 1928
    Collection of the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Japan
    Quoting Oscar Wilde, Liu Ye has stated that “every painting is a self-portrait”. This is no more true that in his present work, which takes on a much more personal note. Though seemingly imaginary and surreal, the girl used in his series of nude portraits was in fact Liu’s partner and muse at the time, and whose relationship broke down soon after, leaving a lasting impact on the artist. With such romantic underpinnings considered, our mind is cast back to Magritte’s 1928 work Tentative de l’impossible (Attempting the Impossible). As in the surrealist’s composition, Liu’s girl is seen to be the genesis, and subsequent manifestation of his creative process. Such an idea also bears roots in Antiquity, echoing the legend of Pygmalion in Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which a sculptor falls in love with a statue that he had carved.

    Yet it is the final balance between geometry and subtlety which makes this such a captivating, yet poignant artwork. Lui Ye is unmistakably at the forefront of Asian art, and this powerful work is representative of the artist’s most personal vision, eloquently laced with his first-hand understanding of Western art and culture.

Property from an Important Swiss collector



signed and dated '04 Ye [in Pinyin and Chinese]' lower left; further stamped with the artist's signature, title and date '"GRIL" (sic.) 2004 LIU YE' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
60 x 44.7 cm. (23 5/8 x 17 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2004.

HK$3,800,000 - 4,800,000 

Sold for HK$7,830,000

Contact Specialist
Danielle So
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 9 July 2020