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  • “We are surrounded by curtains. We can only perceive the world behind a curtain of semblance. At the same time, an object needs to be covered in order to be recognised at all.” — René MagritteThere was a time when red served as a unique Chinese symbol, and at the same time, it became the iconic context behind Liu’s creations in the late 1990s, and Flagship No.2  utilises red as its primary hue of choice.  A round light focuses on the curtains on the stage as a young admiral opens them, revealing a huge battleship slowly approaching from behind. The black sea separates the foreground and background, and the sky is filled with beautiful, dense clouds. The fantastical colours in Liu Ye’s Flagship No.2 are reminiscent of René Magritte's surrealist expressions. As Liu Ye once mentioned, ‘In the 1990s, a lot of works were created with the help of the atmosphere of Surrealism and Metaphysical Paintings.’

    “I grew up in a world that was covered up in red — the red sun, the red flag and red scarves.” — Liu Ye. 


    René Magritte, La Décalcomanie, 1966
    Collection of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France  

     

    Liu Ye’s father was a children's playwright, and as a result, Liu Ye’s childhood memories were filled with fairy tales and theatre stages. Around 1995, curtain and stage elements began to appear in his oeuvre, which can be regarded as the subconscious emergence of his childhood life. The big red stage and curtain elements in Flagship No.2 then continued to appear in Liu's creative career for nearly a decade.

     

    The huge battleship in the picture also forms part of the typical creative lexicon of Liu Ye’s works from the 1990s. ‘When I was a child, I especially liked painting airplanes, cannons, and battleships. Sometimes I painted the sun and sunflowers.’ In Flagship No. 2, the two cannons in front of the battleship adds perspective to the image, making the ship appear extremely tall. From the viewer's perspective, it is not possible to see how long and how tall the battleship is as a whole. The battleship here has become a representative social symbol. This huge and precise machine seems to represent a ‘complex and complicated world.’ As a viewer, it is impossible to get a glimpse of the whole picture of this ‘huge world’ behind the curtains. But can the small navy sailor, who has the body of a child really see the entirety of this ‘battleship’ as he slowly pull the curtains open? The childlike sailor on the stage also happens to be the protagonist in various works by the artist in the 1990s. The sailor represents the artist himself, advancing through various fairytale-like illusions. The small navy sailor in Flagship No.2 lifts the curtain to peer into the world beyond, expressing the artist's childlike desire for exploration as well as his exuberant curiosity about this ‘complex world’ through his works.

     

     

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    Liu Ye, Hope No.1, 2000
    Christie’s Hong Kong, 24 May 2021, Sold for HK$10,450,000

    According to Liu Ye’s Catalogue Raisonné, there are only three pieces of the red Flagship. Flagship No.2 was created in 1997. It was bought by the current collector in 2001 at an auction and has been residing in the collector’s home since. After twenty years, the work is once again appearing at auction.