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Liu Ye (B. 1964)
The Studio
signed 'YE' in Pinyin; dated '91' (lower right)
oil on cnvas
55 x 55 cm. (21 5/8 x 21 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1991
Galerie Taube, Berlin, Germany
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

Lot Essay

Liu Ye's work has always wandered between mythology and philosophy, guided sometimes toward one or the other but always remaining within the space of his creation, such that these elements, processed by the hand of the artist, become highly individual works. Born in 1964, Liu grew up in an intellectual family and came into contact with classical art at an early age. In his youth he received a foundational education in art and design, beginning to think through the fundamental elements of painting through the work of Kandinsky, Mondrian and others. In 1986 he was accepted into the mural department of the Central Academy of Fine Art, and in 1990 continued his studies at the fine arts college of the Berlin University of the Arts.
Executed in 1991, Angel (Lot 405) makes formal reference to the work of Jan van Eyck: a figure holding a cigarette in one hand stands in the studio, his gaze fixed on something beyond the frame. Here Liu Ye, like Pieter Bruegel the Elder in The Painter and the Connoisseur, inserts himself into the picture holding a palette and brace, his sculptural, naked torso 'candidly' facing the viewer while his hand hesitantly points. The viewer is held in place by the deep stares of these two figures; time in the studio stands still as if the viewer were a third figure in the painting. Liu depicts the window frame, walls and other architectural elements as geometric shapes, accentuating the combination of horizontal and vertical lines through shifts in light. Within this space it is dim but outside the window the light is vivid, suggesting a sense of melancholy that pervades the work. The artist utilises a tranquil mode of depiction to powerfully call forth this riddle.
Art is the epitome of its age and a prism through which to view reality. Under the guise of rationality and order, Liu's work employs whimsical narrative to realise his focus on this reality. In The Studio (Lot 406), the artist stages a narrative theatrical set within a scene that seems to resemble a real space, a chaotic space into which light seeps through an open door and clear glass windows to the left. A profusion of detailed elements crowd the composition, keeping the viewer overwhelmed with constant motion. It is a studio, but also seems like a stage. Human and equine figures resembling both classical sculpture and dramatic characters appear in the work; the mood is solemn and peaceful, but the appearance of Andy Warhol and a portrait of Mao bring discomfort and contradiction to the otherwise tranquil space. Standing in the farthest space of the composition is an angel who seems to reference Botticelli, further complicating the picture with doubt and uncertainty. Between a frozen composition contrasted with these disordered figures and classical forms alongside signs of contemporary culture, the relationships and contradictions of the work seem to describe considerations and anxieties once faced by Chinese artists as they came into contact with the Western art tradition.
Oh! (Lot 404), which Liu Ye completed in the mid-1990s after returning to China from Germany, is an important step in the establishment of the artist's style. Formally, its composition resembles the centre of a strong spotlight on a stage, focusing the attention of the viewer on the figure of a young girl. Like the "Red May" singing competitions students were once brought to watch, the red is striking and the green is vibrant as the exaggerated effects of the stage enthuse the heart of the viewer, who seems to be truly experiencing the feeling of sitting beneath the stage. At what should be a solemn and dignified moment with applause rising from the crowd, it appears as if a naughty child has misbehaved; the girl on the stage, yelling 'Oh', instinctively and playfully sticks out her tongue - such are the possibilities that flash across the viewer's mind. The surreal absurdity of the work is further enhanced by the girl's old-fashioned glasses and doll-like bob haircut. Liu locates the composition harshly on a narrow canvas, and strictly controls the red of the painting within a narrow spectrum. Occasionally using high contrast and occasionally choosing gentle transitions, building a contrast between vertical and horizontal, and figuratively expressing abstracted elements, the mastery of the artist's manoeuvres is evident in his playful theme, symbolism and aesthetic strategy.

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