“Society and art should be like breathing – one breaths in and the other breaths out”, Liu Xiadong (2008)
Our most significant acquisition in Q4 2014 was “The fire of 1841”, a large scale painting on canvas by Liu Xiaodong. Realized in 2012 in Austria as part of his exhibition 'The Process of Painting' at Kunsthaus Graz, the artist worked in situ in the mining town Eisenerz in Upper Styria because he found the setting of the centuries-old industrial and cultural landscape bore a striking resemblance to the landscape of China. Eisenerz has been exposed to an enormous process of change – with shrinking population and economic activity. Xiaodong was fascinated by the visible problems that the socially marginalized people experience from this social transformation.
The composition for the painting was inspired by an early 19th century painting by Tendler titled 'Lighting and Miners' Parade in Eisenerz'. The fire Ziaodong includes is a surrealist element and an allegory for disaster and change. The painting was a centerpiece of the exhibition and features on the cover of the 176 page catalog produced by Kunsthaus Graz for the occasion. A 26 minute documentary film was also produced where the work features prominently.
We started collecting Xiaodong in 2013 when we saw his solo exhibition at Lisson Gallery in London, "Half Street". For this exhibition Xiaodong embedded himself in the local London community in the immediate vicinity of the gallery and became closely acquainted with some pub owners around the corner. He spent time with them and took photos, made sketches and eventually painted 3 large canvases: Green Pub, White Pub and Egyptian Restaurant. We acquired three painted over photographs, depicting scenes with the dog that belonged to the owners of the Green pub. The dog also appears in the painting, lying prominently on the bar.
Xiaodong has an established secondary market since 2000. His prices have been increasing regularly. Some 15 works have achieved over $1 million at various leading auction houses in China, the first of which as early as 2006. In October 2014, his auction record was broken once again at Sotheby’s HK by an early work from 1996 titled “Disobeying the Rules”, which sold for over $8.5 million. This result is especially encouraging, considering the painting was not fresh to the market and had been acquired at a Poly auction in December 2010 for $5.5 million. Artnet's "Top 100 most collectible living artists for December 2014" ranked Xiadong 53, with a turnover of $35 million for 49 works that changed hands between 2011-2014.
Liu Xiaodong is a painter of modern life. His large-scale works serve as a kind of history painting for the emerging world. Liu locates the human dimension to such global issues as population displacement, environmental crisis and economic upheaval, but through carefully orchestrated compositions, he walks the line between artifice and reality. A leading figure among the Chinese Neo-Realist painters to emerge in the 1990s, his adherence to figurative painting amounts to a conceptual stance within a contemporary art context where photographic media dominate. His undertaking ‘to see people as they really are’ was galvanized in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square uprising and, alert to the legacy of Chinese Socialist Realism, his compositions are painted with loose, casual brushstrokes and layered with meaning. While he works from life and often “en plein air”, he chooses sitters to supply ancillary narratives to landscapes or situations. This participatory dimension to his practice, where projects are also documented by diaries and films, reflects an urgent sense of interconnection: ‘Society and art’, he says, ‘should be like breathing – one breathes in and the other breathes out’ (2008).
Lui Xiaodong lives and works in Beijing but has undertaken projects in Tibet, Japan, Italy, the UK, Cuba and Austria, and closer to home, in Jincheng, in the north-eastern province of Liaoning, China, where he was born in 1963. He has a BFA and an MFA in painting from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (1988, 1995), where he now holds tenure as professor. He continued his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, University of Complutense, Madrid (1998–99). Solo exhibitions include “Half Street” at Lisson Gallery in London (2013), Kunsthaus Graz, Austria (2012) and Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2010), while his work was been included in numerous group exhibitions such as the Shanghai Biennale (2000, 2010), the 15th Biennale of Sydney (2006) and the 47th Venice Biennale (1997).
For more information visit Liu Xiaodong's artist's page.
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