The Chinese artist Liu Ye’s meticulous, colorful canvases convey his love of literature in the first publication dedicated to his paintings of books.
The Beijing-based artist Liu Ye is known for his precise, deftly rendered representational paintings. Drawn equally from contemporary culture and old master painting, Liu’s wide-ranging visual touchstones include Piet Mondrian, Miffy the Bunny, and Prada advertisements. In this new publication devoted to his book paintings, the artist examines the book as both a physical object and cultural totem. Playing with geometry and perspective, Liu creates extraordinary and disorienting portraits of this most familiar subject.
Liu’s Book Painting series, begun in 2013, depicts close-up views of books that are turned open to reveal empty pages, an approach that emphasizes the object’s form over its content. Rendering books’ material structure—endpapers, binding, spine—in sensual detail, these paintings indicate an obsession with the book as an object and a lifelong love of literature. Liu’s father was a children’s book author who introduced him to Western writers at a young age, fueling his curiosity and imagination. Many of the books in Liu’s father’s collection were banned in Cultural Revolution–era China and the artist read them secretly throughout his childhood. This formative experience figures in his popular Banned Books series and in his book paintings in general.
Published on the occasion of a solo exhibition presented at David Zwirner, New York, in 2020, this catalogue includes new writing by the acclaimed poet Zhu Zhu, who traces the evolution of the book form in Liu’s work, as well as an interview with the artist by Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Studio is an online series highlighting recent works by gallery artists. Focusing on a different solo project each time, the series situates artists’ work in their current studio practices through personal snapshots, audio/video recordings, and reference materials.
Taking variations on Nabokov’s Lolita as their subject, the artist’s stark compositions are often rich in historical quotations, but singularly Liu Ye’s own.
(New York, London & Hong Kong — March 13, 2019) David Zwirner is pleased to announce the representation of Liu Ye. The gallery will feature work by the artist at this year’s Art Basel Hong Kong, and is planning a solo exhibition with Liu for 2020 in New York.
Beijing-born painter Liu Ye (b. 1964) combines abstraction and figuration to create bold, meditative paintings that investigate the intersections of history and representation through a distinct vocabulary that transcends traditional Eastern and Western art-historical categories. Drawing on both his childhood memories of China and his early education in Europe, the artist’s carefully balanced, methodical compositions play on perspective and ways of seeing, while also referencing a diverse range of aesthetic, literary, and cultural sources. Among these are the fairy-tale worlds of Hans Christian Andersen and Lewis Carroll; literature by Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Nabokov; and modernist painting, architecture, and design, from Balthus to the Bauhaus. These various points of reference have inspired Liu’s artistic output for more than twenty-five years, resulting in a body of work that is at once rich in its historical quotations and singularly his own.
Liu studied mural painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts and industrial design at the School of Arts & Crafts, both in Beijing, before studying at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin. His six years spent living and studying in Europe—including a six-month-long residency at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam—were formative. During that time he deepened his knowledge of Western art history and architecture, drawing inspiration from early Renaissance painters such as Jan van Eyck and Petrus Christus; as well as artists ranging from Johannes Vermeer to De Stijl architect Gerrit Rietveld; the modernist Paul Klee; and, perhaps most significantly, Piet Mondrian, whose pared-down, geometric compositions are recurring motifs in Liu’s oeuvre. Pairing these themes with visual references to Chinese tradition—as in his stripped-down, minimal compositions depicting bamboo, a potent symbol of virtue and a central emblem in classical Chinese painting—Liu’s richly layered paintings are infused with an internal logic based on proportion and measure, harmony and balance.
Some of the artist’s most recent series depict closeup views of books that are turned open to reveal empty pages, a strategy that emphasizes the object’s formal qualities over its content. Horizontal and vertical elements combine with curvilinear lines to create its geometric composition. Intimately scaled, these paintings reference Liu’s appreciation of the book as an object, as well as his love of literature—his father was a children’s book author who introduced him to Western writers at a young age, fueling his curiosity and imagination.
As a representative of Liu Ye, David Zwirner will promote the artist’s work through exhibitions at its New York, London, and Hong Kong spaces and the development of new scholarship through publications and international presentations.
As stated by David Zwirner, "The gallery is honored to represent Liu Ye, an artist who is regarded first and foremost for his rigorous commitment to painting. Seamlessly integrating Western and Eastern influences into his dynamic canvases, from old master traditions to minimalism, Liu’s multifaceted works are as equally engaged in a dialogue with art history as they are with contemporary painting and sculpture. His visual acuity and depth is paired with his technical mastery of the medium, making him one of the most exciting painters working today. Though widely exhibited in Asia, Liu’s work has seldom been shown in the United States—we are so excited to share his distinct vision with a broader audience, starting with a solo exhibition in New York in 2020."
Liu Ye’s work was recently the subject of a solo exhibition at Prada Rong Zhai, Shanghai (November 2018 through January 2019). Other solo museum presentations include shows at Mondriaanhuis, Amersfoort, The Netherlands (2016) and Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland (2007). His work has also been featured in significant international group exhibitions, including Hello World: Revising a Collection, Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin (2018); The World in 2015, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2015); Focus Beijing: De Heus-Zomer Collection, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2014); Re-View: Opening Exhibition of Long Museum West Bund, Long Museum, Shanghai (2014); In Time, 2012 Chinese Oil Painting Biennale, National Art Museum of China, Beijing (2012); Future Pass: From Asia to the World, 54th Venice Biennale (2011; traveled to Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung; and Today Art Museum, Beijing); Chinamania, Arken Museum of Modern Art, Ishøj, Denmark (2009); and Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, University of California, Berkeley (2008; traveled to Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts). In 2017, Liu’s work was included in the 57th Venice Biennale as part of Viva Arte Viva, curated by Christine Macel, director of the 2017 Venice Biennale and chief curator at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Work by Liu is held in numerous public collections, including the Long Museum, Shanghai; M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong; the Shanghai Art Museum; Today Art Museum, Beijing; and the Yuz Museum, Shanghai. Liu lives and works in Beijing.
Image: Liu Ye. Photo by Shen Siyuan