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

Lost City

XU LEI (B. 1963)

Lost City
Scroll, mounted and framed
Ink and colour on paper
61.5 x 117.5 cm. (24 ¼ x 46 ¼ in.)
Executed in 1999
Aura Gallery, Shanghai, 2000
Private collection, Europe
Fugue: Xu Lei, Suzhou Museum, Suzhou, 2015, inside front cover
Xu Lei, Culture and Art Publishing House, Beijing, 2013, pp. 130-131
Xu Lei, U.S. Asian Cultural Academy, Washington, 2008, pp. 40-41
Facing Shadows: Empty City (Vol. 2), Hebei Education Publishing House, Hebei, 2005, p. 17
Xu Lei, Hebei Education Publishing House, Hebei, 2003, p. 53
Fine Arts Literature: Contemporary Gongbi, Hubei Fine Arts Publishing House, Wuhan, 2001, p. 18

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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.

The zigzagging form of the architectural structure in Lost City, folding in and out, acts as an illusory repoussoir device that at once reveals and conceals – a suspended moment in time that the eye is drawn towards, and yet, inexorably distracted by the ancient maps embroidered onto the iridescent surface. The folding screens are replete with fragmented archipelagos and landmasses, faded and washed out to the point of unreadability despite the sense of order evoked by the labels next to what appears to be islands, forts and waterways. Further reading into the place names exposes their fictitiousness and anachronism: part alluding to ancient myths, part fragmented syntax. In rearranging and appropriating his own histories, memories, and rhetoric and illusions, Xu Lei summons not one but many spectres – endowing the painting with a sense of mystery that lies beyond its beautiful facade.

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