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Liu Wei
Christie's International Real Estate

By Nancy Durrant


Although you might not exactly describe him as a "landscape artist," landscape has featured in the work of Chinese artist Liu Wei, 43, for many years. In one way, it made his career: when his ambitious installation proposal for the 2004 Shanghai Biennale was accepted on the condition that changes were made, he was so furious that instead he submitted a huge black and white photograph that looked like a traditional Chinese painting of a mountain range. It was, in fact, a collection of naked buttocks. "I was really angry, so I decided to show them an ass," he said in an interview with ARTnews in 2014. The photograph changed his life, he said, enabling him to work as an artist.


Born in Beijing in 1972, Liu spent his childhood drawing for fun. At 15 he went to the National Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou, China, where he resisted the formal teaching of technique and concentrated largely on having a good time. His grades were poor, but teachers recognized his talent and encouraged him.


Liu works in a variety of media including painting, sculpture, and large-scale installation.
"Often people want to see what they expectin the work," he told ART news. "They have ideas about China, and are hoping that the work accords with their dreams. But I don't want people to have such a simple way of looking at my works."


The Chinese landscape - its transformation, and the growth of its cities - has long been part of his investigations. The difficulty of reconciling human nature with civilization and urbanization is a theme he returns to repeatedly, and he often uses urban architecture to explore his themes. For Love It, Bite It (2006-7) Liu created installations of cities out of dog chews, associating the human pursuit of power with the animal's instincts. In Tiananmen, a work made in 2010 after he had returned to painting and which sold at Christie's Hong Kong last year for HK$6,640,000 (US$863,200), his colorful yet veiled depiction of the famous square - often shown in Chinese contemporary art for the many complex layers of historical and cultural significance that sit over it - is curiously distant.