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    Sale 2602

    Asian Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)

    24 May 2008, Hong Kong

  • Lot 179


    Price Realised  


    (Born in 1963)
    signed and dated 'Xiaodong; 1997' in Chinese (lower middle)
    oil on canvas
    230 x 180 cm. (90 1/2 x 70 3/4 in.)
    Painted in 1997

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    As the contemporary art of China moves head-first into the twenty-first century, the distinctive sub-genre of 'Cynical-Realism' has emerged. The thematic concerns and appropriation of both traditional Chinese and Western art forms within this movement divulge the investigation of the momentous, ongoing social and cultural transformations in China. As an avant-garde member of this faction, Liu Xiaodong excels as a figurative realist with a fresh and dynamic fluidity of his brushstroke, unique colour choices and compositional strategies. Yet, it is Liu's forcefully frank depiction of scenes from daily life that resonates the greatest impact of his work.


    'Brothers' (Lot 179), painted in 1997, perfectly exemplifies the artist's provocation to distill the very essence of individualism and character. By rendering his subjects emotionally unguarded, Liu captures the specific quality each person presents and is thus able to harmonize this individual or narrative with the overall composition. In 'Brothers' there appear two naked male figures that stand leaning against a stark yellow wall. They are at a distance from each other, yet both face towards the viewer; one gazes forward beyond the visible image whilst the other keeps his eyes closed. The figures mirror each other in their protective pose of crossed-legged with their hands covering their bare groin. In all other physical aspects however the figures are non-emulative and indeed appear to be non-related, as suggested by their converse complexion, facial features and physic. By the shadow and shading that is rendered, the viewer gains a sense of very strong lighting and one is immediately led to imagine a photographers studio. Liu perfectly evokes a feeling of awkwardness and vulnerability, a shared and thus uniting discomfort between the distant 'brothers'. With the honesty and wry precision characteristic of the artist, a sense of the gawky truth of emotion and character is laid bare for all to see (fig.1).

    Nomadic wanderings inspire reflection

    The year of creation for this work coincides with Liu's participation in the '47th Venice Biennial Art Exhibition' Venice, Italy and marks an apogee of extensive world-travel for the artist. Liu, who has spent a year living in Spain and has consistently explored the world, has often reflected that travel is vital to increase one's understanding of human nature, and to avoid a kind of hegemony and unhealthy, lop-sided patrioticy in one's own nationality. In 1993 Liu traveled overseas for the first time in his life. His time spent in the USA allowed Liu to place the American culture in perspective and in turn incited a reflective composure that focused him on the specific characteristics of the evolving Chinese situation. It was also during this period that Liu viewed the works of Lucien Freud for the first time; a moment he recalls had a profound impact upon him and the direction of his work.

    The truth of the divested self

    The technical expertise and subtlety of expression that Liu masters are reminiscent of the American painter Eric Fischl (fig.2), whose use of violent strokes to capture human flesh reverberates throughout Liu's works. However, the social discourse the two painters dialogue are polar in their meaning and intention; whilst Fischl presents the seedy truth and vulnerability of the American dream, Liu reveals the unpolished innocence that has subsisted since the Cultural Revolution. Liu likes to paint people naked, yet this does not resonant from his classical training. The fact that Liu likes painting bodies correlates to his desire to capture reality. A figure completely naked is a soul and character exposed; the nature of a marginal man is indeed revealed once all of the outer shells are discarded. Farther to rendering a subject naked, Liu also achieves this fresh narrative of truth and vulnerability via his choice of subjects. In interviews, Liu comments that he likes to paint lost things; those subjects forgotten in the passing of emotion and time. His evident fondness for the lives and fate of ordinary folk addresses the true, concentrated nature of Chinese society. Liu's earlier works formed as snapshots of friends and family, whereby his familiarity with their features and activities enabled him to go straight to the heart of a character, relationship, and setting. 'Brothers' poignantly incarnates Liu's focused sensitivity to portray the close family bonds, unspoken anguishes and effortless intimacy between kin. In the evolution of Liu's oeuvre, his inspiration now draws upon a broader cache of senses, embodying a reflection of the dramatic changes taking place in contemporary China. The majority of Liu's subjects belong to working class people who seemingly live on the fringes of society and are the least socialized, yet as such they represent the truth of Chinese reality without the distortion of an ideological filter. This truthfulness allows us to make a connection with our own life experiences, and enables us to empathise and form a unique attachment with the characters that Liu portrays. The driving notion of truthfulness is the very foundation of Liu Xiaodong's paintings, and also a characteristic that distinguishes him from other Realist painters in Chinese contemporary art today.

    While arguably the most resonant effect upon the efflux of burgeoning creativity in China over the last twenty years remains the wide-scale social, political, and economic chaos that was the Cultural Revolution, Liu takes a very unique approach in presenting the after-effects of such an horrific period. The sensitivity he appropriates to portray the inculpability of a forgotten people, displaced in the rapidly changing society of China, is both poignant and harsh and yet one which opens our eyes to a previously unseen progression of resilience and spirit in contemporary China.


    Liu Xiaodong 1990-2000, exh. cat., Museum of Central Institute of Fine Arts, Beijing, China, 2000, p. 59. (illustrated)
    Hubei Meishu Chubanshe, Contemporary Chinese Oil Painters Series - Liu Xiaodong, Wuhan, China, 2000, p. 89. (illustrated)
    Fundacao Armando Alvares Penteado (FAAP), China: Contemporary Art 2002, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2002. (illustrated)
    Museu de Arte Brasileria, MAB Salao Cultural China Contemporary Art, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2002, pp. 90 -91. (illustrated)
    Il nudo fra ideale e realta, exh. cat., Galleria d'arte moderna, Bologna, Italy, 2004. (illustrated)
    Map Book Publishers, Red Flag Collection - Liu Xiaodong, China, 2006, p. 64. (illustrated)


    Beijing, China, Museum of Central Institute of Fine Arts, Liu Xiaodong 1990-2000, 18-25 September, 2000.
    Sao Paulo, Brazil, Fundacao Armando Alvares Penteado (FAAP), China: Contemporary Art 2002, August, 2002.
    Bologna, Italy, Galleria d'arte moderna, Il nudo fra ideale e realta, 22 January - 9 May, 2004.