LIU YE (B. 1964)
LIU YE (B. 1964)
LIU YE (B. 1964)
3 More
LIU YE (B. 1964)

Girl with Toy Bricks

LIU YE (B. 1964)
Girl with Toy Bricks
signed, signed in Chinese and dated ‘Ye 2007’ (lower right); signed, signed in Chinese and stamped with the title and date ‘GRIL [sic] WITH TOY BRICKS 07 liu ye’ (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
31 ½ x 23 5⁄8in. (80 x 60cm.)
Painted in 2007
Sperone Westwater, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
C. Noe (ed.), Liu Ye: Catalogue Raisonné 1991-2015, Ostfildern 2015, no. 07-09 (illustrated in colour, pp. 201 and 334).
New York, Sperone Westwater, Liu Ye: Leave Me in the Dark, 2009, pp. 14 and 71 (illustrated in color, p. 15; illustrated, p. 80).

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Featuring a seated girl in a simplistic and tranquil interior setting, Girl with Toy Bricks (2007) is a captivating work that exemplifies the maturation of Liu Ye’s narrative flair and painterly virtuosity during the 2000s. Its meticulous and distilled composition, akin to poetry, forms a maze rife with visual clues that seduces the viewer to enter the composition from different angles. With her eyes cast downwards, the girl contemplates a table of colourful blocks assembled in various configurations, as if watching a play. Like one of Vermeer’s reading women, her state of mind seems to traverse the confined space in which she is situated. Her surroundings, meanwhile—at once ordinary and intimate—are rationalised in an array of geometrical forms and lines that camouflage the work’s deeper emotional resonance.

Liu Ye initially studied industrial design for four years at the Beijing College of Art and Design in the 1980s before enrolling at the Central Academy of Fine Arts and subsequently the Hochschule der Kunst in Berlin. He was greatly influenced by the aesthetic and philosophy of the Bauhaus, which fundamentally informs his vocabulary and sets him apart from the majority of contemporary Chinese artists of his generation. Painted in 2007, Girl with Toy Bricks marks a pivotal moment in which Liu Ye parted with Modernism and began to engage with more classical ideas. Though continuing the simplified narratives that previously dominated his work, here the artist introduces a much darker palette, imbuing the painting with a deep solemnity. The oval face of his protagonist, eclipsed beneath the dimmed light, possesses a faded lustre found in precious stone that evokes the passage of time.

Reference to the work of Piet Mondrian, formerly a didactic citation in most of Liu Ye’s works, has been reinvented here in a playful format of toy blocks—a witty touch that evinces the artist’s gradual internalisation of abstract principles. As art critic Zhu Zhu observes, ‘the images that flow from his brush—bamboo, wooden blocks, toys, books, little girls, musicians—[are imbued] with a solidity and distinctness of structure, a melodic contour, which means he has gone past the stage of setting up fairy-tale scenarios as a way of dissolving an oppressive reality. Rather, he has turned towards a pursuit of true spiritual autonomy’ (Z. Zhu, ‘Glimpse of Infinity’, in Liu Ye: Leave Me In The Dark, exh. cat. Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York 2009, n.p.). The humanity of the Old Masters combines with the emotional rhythms of abstraction. Aside from its nod to Mondrian, the work’s vertical linear backdrop also chimes with the serene compositions of Agnes Martin.

Amidst an atmosphere of quiet solitude, the colourful wooden blocks occupy central stage in parallel with the young girl, their geometric volumes lending depth to the composition. The red blocks are particularly strident, alluding to the prominence of this colour in Liu Ye’s oeuvre. ‘I grew up in a world that was covered up in red—the red sun, the red flags and red scarves’, he explains (L. Ye, quoted in Liu Ye: Catalogue Raisonné: 1991-2015, Ostfildern-Ruit 2015, p. 23). While the colour is conventionally associated with the collective memory of the Cultural Revolution, Liu Ye ultimately sidesteps its political connotations. Instead, it is an indexical way for the artist to recollect childhood memories. In the form of toys, it becomes a vessel for nostalgia, or perhaps, a time capsule for us all.

More from 20th / 21st Century: London Evening Sale

View All
View All