XU LEI (B. 1963)
XU LEI (B. 1963)

Horse and Chairs

XU LEI (B. 1963)
Horse and Chairs
Scroll, mounted and framed
Ink and colour on paper
65 x 50 cm. (25 5/8 x 19 5/8 in.)
Executed in 1999
Aura Gallery, Shanghai, 2000
Private collection, Europe
Facing Shadows: Empty City (Vol. 1), Hebei Education Publishing House, Hebei, 2005, p. 102

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Angelina Li

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Lot Essay

Seemingly implausible mise en scènes sumptuously staged and rendered, Horse and Chairs and Lost City present spellbinding visual conundrums that stand amongst the greatest icons within Xu Lei’s oeuvre. Against backgrounds of darkness mysteriously lit, painted in a muted colour palette ranging from grey, beige, pale yellow to cream white, in one scene, an exotic bird perches atop the rump of a white steed facing the opposite direction, whose lean, muscular body is painstakingly portrayed with sensuous luminosity and shadowing although half-hidden behind the multi-panelled folding screens; in another, we see the head of a white steed – perhaps the very same – protruding from behind the curtains. With near-hallucinogenic imageries, seductive chiaroscuro and eerie beauty, Horse and Chairs and Lost City are synthesis of metaphors, narratives and symbols perennially drifting in and out of consciousness that invites the viewer to participate in their magical ambiguity.

For an artist whose aim is to ‘make a game out of the cerebral, rhetorical relations among pictorial figures,’ Xu Lei’s work not only harks back to the literary legacies of Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino. In Horse and Chairs, the viewer is faced with almost voyeuristic peering into spaces where intimate drama unfolds, or has already taken place, with a heightened sense of eroticism, love and desire, pointing to the paradoxical nature of things which enchanted the symbolists and surrealists such as Rene Magritte.

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