Auction | China Guardian (HK) Auctions Co., Ltd.
2019 Autumn Auctions
Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art

Liu Ye (b.1964)
Lost Balance(Painted in 1995)

Acrylic and oil on canvas

65 x 65 cm. 25 3/5 x 25 3/5 in.

Signed in pinyin and Chinese and dated on bottom left

1997, Liu Ye, Mingjingdi Gallery, Beijing, p.14
2015, Liu Ye Catalogue Raisonne: 1991-2015, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, p.82 and 266
1997, Liu Ye, Mingjingdi Gallery, Beijing

Original Collection of the artist
Private Collection, Asia
31 May 2007, Poly Beijing Spring Auction, Lot 709
Important Private Collection, Asia

Sailing Ahead, Looking Afar
Lost Balance: a Melange of Classical Elements

“The silence often of pure innocence persuades when speaking fails.”
— William Shakespeare

As a leading figure of Chinese contemporary art, Liu Ye is adept at playing with elements of different times. He incorporates fairy tales into realist renditions and integrates abstract elements with classicism before mixing them all before his reconstruction. As a result, a realist fairy tale that retells the artist's past and preludes the future has emerged.

Visual Fairy Tales
Liu Ye was admitted into the Mural Painting Department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1986 and later pursued further studies at the Berlin University of the Arts. During his time in Germany, he refined his painting techniques and explored German art traditions that gave his works flavour of Renaissance art. He later derived his artistic pursuit from the metaphysical and surrealist paintings by artists like Piet Cornelies Mondrian, Balthus and Ciorgio de Chirico. After his return in 1994, Liu has steered clear from the mainstream political pop and cynical realism and regarded “a true heart” as the only pre-requisite of art creation. Inspired by his father, a writer of children's literature, Liu translates grand themes and intentions into a playful yet delicate language to reproduce the dreams and fantasies in the prime days.

The Potpourri as His Incarnation
While Liu's journey in Europe left him inward-looking in the early 1990s, his creation after his return finds its way back to Chinese traditional culture that empowers his imagination. He never settles with utopia but rather reveals the reality in a sarcastic manner like the Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch in the 15th century. He makes the most of the internal connections between different elements and adopts a composition in the spirit of abstract art that renders his painting story-like and tranquil. This technique demonstrates his mastery of intertextuality and adds distinctively rich connotations to the works created in the period right after his comeback to China.

Lost Balance offered for auction is one of the iconic pieces over that period. Finished in 1995, the year following his homecoming, it is an incredibly valuable item produced in the 1990s that has ever appeared in recent auctions. With copious references to both Chinese culture and Western classics, the painting features Liu's signature technique, that is putting together a variety of symbols from other painters. It is also a precious reflection of the artist in his 30s on his past ambitions and a trumpet call to overcome any obstacles in the way ahead.

The Readers' Redemption
Liu constructed a surrealist world offshore in Lost Balance. The three navy men, adapted from his self-portrait, are lined up in triangular composition. Counting clockwise, they are appreciating a painting, reading and looking afar respectively. With windows on all sides, the structure gives off the flavour of a traditional study studio. For one character, his round sunglasses stand in striking contrast with the prim navy uniform like the confrontation between the modern social institution and his freedom-loving personality.

Books or reading figures are frequently seen in Liu Ye's creations. The inspiration originated from his father's fairy tales and was further nourished by European classical literature, all of which have broadened his horizons and helped him break away from the restrictive ideologies. In this painting, Liu also pays tribute over and over again to the Dutch artist Mondrian, whose unimaginably orderly artworks give Liu the sense of eternal tranquillity and become an emblem of his artistic self-redemption. The dual presence of books and Mondrian, which has appeared 8 times in his oeuvre, has become the signature symbol of Liu's artistic belief. In Lost Balance, the man in the shadow looking at the traditional painting wears an indifferent expression. In comparison, his colleague basked in sunshine holding an album of Mondrian looks very content with the exposure to modern art. Mondrian's collection has become a beacon that guides his spirit to freedom in the painting.

Looking afar at the place where sea and sky meet, the flame in the warship is in dramatic parallel with the sunset clouds. The inclusion of military ship is inspired by the Russian constructivist Alexander Rodchenko who focused on pro-war posters. The unbalanced vessel echoes the title of the painting and serves as the visual prelude to the Battleship series in the mid and late 1990s and Portrait of Battleship (1998-2009).

A Floating Truman's World
At the top of the painting sits a nicely curved rainbow stretching across the sea. Its magnificence is enhanced by the heavy and colourful clouds. The rich texture of the clouds stands in stark contrast to the flat warship beneath it. This technique is closely akin to the absurd rendition of Melencolia, an acclaimed engraving by the German painter Albrecht Durer during the Renaissance. The carved windows add more traditional flavour to the interior as well as a second frame to the composition like that in the paintings of the 15th century. This piece is another example that shows the special connotations of windows and paintings as Liu's frequently used symbols.

The seemingly solid blue walls blend seamlessly into the vast ocean, and the tree shadow on the window suggests the presence of a lively spring on land that resembles the vitality in Spring by Jean-François Millet. Liu translated the idyllic scenery in Millet's work into the profound ocean. With the rainbow, the clouds and the sky lying far beyond our reach, it seems that the sailors are floating on a “Truman's World”, indulging in the pleasure of art appreciation and reading without any concerns about the outside world. Liu took a camp-like anti-pretentiousness approach to suggest that the reality is not necessarily connected with personal life. The soldier holding the telescope at the centre embodies the anti-establishment spirit and stands in concert with Liu's other paintings under the theme of performative voyage over the same period.

A Detail-Minded Artist-Magician
The rich details and the rigorous composition of Lost Balance exemplify that Liu has inherited the rationalism and painting philosophy that German artists have passed down since the Renaissance. The artist managed to include a great number of “credit cookies” while offering exceptional visual appeal without overlooking the big picture. Unlike his later career, He did not place the icons in conspicuous locations but rather carefully “weaved” into elements like Mondrian's work and the lotus painting. This shows how Eastern culture coexists harmoniously with Western art and gains a new lease of life in current days.
Following the practice of Durer, Liu also painted a puzzling number onto the stern. The number “41” refers to USS Mississippi BB-41, which played a critical role in winning the World War II. The red and blue paint on the ship body goes with the painting's palette, and the blue-purple walls facing against the light also match the hue of water and sky. Despite the small size of the painting, the gradient of primary colours generates perfect orderliness and serves as an implicit reference to the geometric shapes in Mondrian's works.

Price estimate:
HKD: 5,500,000 – 7,500,000
USD: 701,300 – 956,300

Auction Result:
HKD: 22,000,000



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