(Chinese, B. 1964)
Composition for Mondrian
dated '95'; signed 'LIU YE' in Pinyin; signed in Chinese (upper left)
acrylic and oil on canvas
45 x 35 cm. (17 3/4 x 13 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1995
Galerie Taube, Berlin, Germany
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Galerie Taube, Ye Liu Bilder 1993-1995, Berlin, Germany, 1995 (illustrated, p. 13).
Berlin, Germany, Galerie Taube, Ye Liu Bilder 1993-1995, 7 April-10 June 1995.

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

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Lot Essay

The child-priests are an early example of Liu's use of himself in cherub form in his paintings, the floating hats a reference to the surrealism of Rene Magritte, the direction of the action off-stage a nod to the religiously-infused lighting of Johannes Vermeer, the adherence to geometric forms and palette of primary colors a distillation of Liu's study of Bauhaus and De Stijl. But unlike Kandinsky's ode to form, Liu has not evacuated his symbols of content for the sake of pure formal study.
We can see this plainly in Horse and Rider (Lot 423), painted in 1994. The composition features a young, robed female atop a majestic horse, in regal repose and wearing angel's wings, staff in hand, and surrounded by a mysterious trio of child-priests. The three boys stand atop mysterious orbs, binoculars poised intently towards a far-off horizon. The three boy-priests and young girl all "wear" hats that float effortlessly above their heads. They stand before a plain, Northern European stable. The viewer's gaze darts back and forth between the foreground and background, through a series of contrasting and receding masses and spaces, a snapshot of a blue sky with a small airplane embarking in a contrasting direction. A discreet paternal figure leans curiously out of a far off window frame. The paternal figure in the distance is that of his German gallerist from the same period, the girl, the daughter of one of his early patrons. As such, the painting becomes a quiet puzzle, a metaphor for the artist's present circumstances but also a tableau alluding to the challenges of an artist embarking on his own unique journey. Liu Ye gives equal weight to content and form, resulting in works that have the grace and rigor of Mondrian, but which also bear considerable emotional and symbolic weight and which reflect the personal journey of the artist.

In Composition for Mondrian (Lot 424), painted just one year later, we can see the further distillation of Liu's themes and methods. In a shallow interior space, the artist-as-child plays hide-and-seek with his muse, Rene Magritte, a winged priest-like figure who hovers improbably from a single blue balloon at the center of the canvas. The perpendicular and parallel lines of the floor where it meets the wall, the legs and slats of the chair, the edge of the curtain, all gently parallel the edges of the canvas itself, and, coupled with the reds, yellows, whites and blues of the composition, are further echoed by the presence of Mondrian's canvas itself, leaning gently against the wall, partially hidden by the long curtain.

The artist-as-child plays an ineffectual game of hide-and-seek, as he peers in plain view through the slats of the simple chair. This might also suggest child's play as a mock-prisoner, suggesting Liu's ambivalence as an artist, honoring his heroes while also seeking to escape them. This tableau also introduces essential aesthetic, philosophical and visual dualities that would be present in many of Liu's works henceforth: the play between that which is hidden and that which is revealed, between revelation and obscurity, between truth and mystery, between outer form and inner expression. Like a conductor commanding his symphony, between Horse and Rider and Composition for Mondrian, we see Liu at play with the themes, symbols and aesthetic strategies that have set him apart from his contemporaries and have established him as one of the most compelling painters of his generation.

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