LIU WEI (B. 1965)
LIU WEI (B. 1965)
LIU WEI (B. 1965)
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LIU WEI (B. 1965)

Revolutionary Family

LIU WEI (B. 1965)
Revolutionary Family
signed in Chinese and signed ‘Liu Wei’ (on the bottom edge)
oil on canvas
100 x 100 cm. (39 3⁄8 x 39 3⁄8 in.)
Painted in 1998
Schoeni Art Gallery, Hong Kong
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Head of Evening Sale

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Lot Essay

The Revolutionary Family is a groundbreaking work that crystallises Liu Wei’s personal history and his contemplations on societal changes. As one of the leading figures in the Cynical Realism movement, his highly distinctive brushwork and unbridled expressions create a visual vocabulary that is both critical and vibrant with contemporary energy. Born into a military family, Liu Wei spent years delving into the subject of revolutionary soldiers and their family members as a central part of his artistic practice—it is a vehicle with which he examines the past and the future of China. Out of the top three works from the artist’s auction record, two of them are from the Revolutionary Family series. It is evident that not only are paintings from this series significant to Liu Wei’s artistic practice, but they are also monumental works that are foundational to Chinese contemporary art history as well as the art market. Despite being highly sought after by collectors, they are rarely seen in the auction market—the last time a work from this series was offered was four years ago. Christie’s is honoured to have the rare opportunity to present in this sale such a significant work. What makes this work even more remarkable is that Liu Wei painted it late in his career. He revisited this early iconic subject matter with a more mature oil painting style. The use of thick impasto and bold brushwork create a gloomy atmosphere; the use of neon colours forms an imposing abstract presence. Liu Wei was able to capture an essential truth amidst all the chaotic social phenomena with insight and biting irony. Such an invaluable visual experience is a testament to the artist’s indefatigable search for innovative artistic expressions.

One of the most striking features of Chinese avant garde art is the special attention artists paid to the tradition of figurative portraiture. Growing up under the communist regime, artists were moulded by its ideologies. Using figurative portraiture to voice one’s dissent and artistic principles has become the dominant mode of expression in recent decades. In the early 1990s, Chinese avant garde artists focused on utilising the rich tradition of portraiture in art history and its deep cultural significance to experiment with a new format of representation that is steeped in social critique. To artists of the Cynical Realism movement like Liu Wei and his contemporaries, the Tiananmen Square Incident and the subsequent rampant consumerism are unforgettable traumas of an era. The defiant spirit of these artists are reminiscent of Dadaists from Germany such as Otto Dix and George Grosz who heavily referenced and condemned historic events—their surrealistic imageries satirise the immoralities of specific figures in power. To understand Liu Wei’s radical artistic conception, one must first understand the critical meaning behind The Revolutionary Family series.

Liu Wei’s father was a military officer. For this reason, he started using the imagery of a military family as a vehicle to reflect on the past and the future of China. Completed in 1998, the work offered in this auction reveals Liu Wei’s fond memories of being a part of this family. At the same time, it also speaks to his anxieties and desires to extricate himself from this institution. Such mentality is a reflection of how the tumultuous changes in the nation have affected Liu Wei on a personal and emotional level. The composition of this painting is based on the format of a portrait. His signature use of rich impasto sensitively depicts the hidden rift between two generations within a military family. Even though the setting may suggest that the two members are in harmony, their countenances reveal to us that they are, in fact, not in agreement: one man looks to the right with determined eyes; the other man’s gaze diverge in a bizarre fashion. Both of their facial expressions betray their apparent confidence in the future ahead. Liu Wei deliberately painted their antiquated uniforms as well as their aged skin to appear swollen and distorted. This visual vocabulary strengthens the artist’s unique aesthetics of decay and heightens the tension of the painting. With this powerful imagery, Liu Wei contemplates on how two generations have had their beliefs shaken and grown estranged. His surrealistic brushwork examines a transitional period in history in which the truth was not so black and white. By using a kind of grey humour, which is an idiosyncratic element of Cynical Realism, he celebrates the absurdity and tragedy of this uncertain era. The Revolutionary Family undoubtedly brings to light Liu Wei’s painstaking investigation into the eternal conflict between human nature and societal strictures. The destructive power of this confrontation is shown on the decaying corporeal bodies in the painting.

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