23 November 2022 – 5 January 2023
‘A collage itself is the main way of composing modern cities, architectures and buildings. It is no longer a painting concept in the traditional sense, but is about construction, composition and movement between city and architecture, architecture and painting, painting and personal experience, where different interfaces, or images or screens, are created, reflecting a speed and a real landscape of modern living.'
White Cube is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by Liu Wei at West Palm Beach. Featuring paintings and large-scale sculptures, the selection traces Liu’s considered response to the accelerated dynamics of the contemporary urban environment and addresses the relationship between humans, nature and machines.
A group of paintings produced during the past year continues the artist’s celebrated ‘Purple Air’ series, which he began in 2006. In these works, Liu focuses on the possibilities offered by digital processes and how these can be translated and adapted to the medium of painting, expanding his long-term use of digital software to deconstruct, reorganise and reinterpret an image.
Formulated as a perception rather than a representation of that which surrounds us, Liu aims ‘to present the hidden parts of reality’, drawing connections between painting and architecture, the organic and the mechanical and digital and physical modes of construction. Executed in oil on canvas, these paintings begin with a digital image which is enlarged and then meticulously transcribed into pixels and fine verticallines, resulting in a chromatic neon haze that both veils and reveals the pictorial subject. Reflecting on the rapid expansion and digital progression of China’s urban landscape, familiar to him from childhood, Liu’s paintings project an imaginary, interstitial space ‒ one that exists between ideas and reality, between buildings, digital projections, and the sublime surface of the screen.
The use of accumulated lines in Liu’s paintings create a dissolute image which, in these paintings, results in forms that evoke futuristic towers, graphic screens, and circular, glowing neon suns or moons. Abstracted under a haze of simulated colour, the lines effect a compression and extension of pictorial depth which, as the artist has remarked, ‘re-establishes a unique visual structure and an order of gaze’. Likening his pictorial language to the ‘disorder of data’ on an electronic screen as well as to collage, Liu makes parallels between the layering process of his paintings and the constructive growth of the contemporary city:
‘A collage itself is the main way of composing modern cities, architectures and buildings. It is no longer a painting concept in the traditional sense, but is about construction, composition and movement between city and architecture, architecture and painting, painting and personal experience, where different interfaces, or images or screens, are created, reflecting a speed and a real landscape of modern living.’
This landscape of modern living is equally reflected in Microworld NO.7, 8 and 9 (all 2022), three sculptures from the ‘Microworld’ series which Liu began in 2018. Continuing his focus on the relationship between humans, nature and machines, the sculptures are executed in polished sheet aluminium, their smooth, amalgamated, composite forms eliding the organic, sensual and bodily form with the technological, mechanical and futuristic structure. Grounded in the philosophy of the French philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist Bruno Latour, particularly his investigations into the relationship between humans and nature, the ‘Microworld’ sculptures point to our need to make associations between the organic and the manmade, while at the same time, harness a malleable response to new technology and to the possibilities it might engender.
Embodying a different kind of privileged gaze, Liu’s baroque forms evolve from the idea of the smallest units of matter; the fundamental components of our world, as seen through the most advanced scientific and optical tools. Exploring notions of the visible and invisible in our current state of technological advancement, they are both expanding and self-completing, combining sheets with solid forms and arcs and folds with weighty spheres. Hard-edged in their material properties yet presenting as soft undulating forms, Liu’s sculptures contain, describe and enfold space, their reflective skin-like surfaces asserting a physicality resonant of the body.
The minute building blocks for a new world here enlarged and made monumental, the ‘Microworld’ sculptures highlight the increasingly manipulated relationship between humans and nature, and our determined quest for technological progress. ‘We can’t truly experience this micro-world, but somehow we are, unquestioningly, convinced of its existence’, Liu has said. Responsive to the globalisation and cultural homogenisation of today’s world, Liu’s work provokes and entices, posing powerful questions which can be thought and felt through their sensory materiality and elusive form, allowing us, as the artist suggests, to ‘see through the prism of feelings’.
Liu Wei was born in 1972 in Beijing, where he lives and works. His solo exhibitions include Long Museum, Shanghai (2020); Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland and Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio (2019); Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul (2016); Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2015); Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2014); Today Art Museum, Beijing (2011); and Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai (2011).
Group exhibitions include Busan Museum of Art, South Korea (2020); Smart Museum of Art and Wrightwood 659, Chicago (2020); Faurschou Foundation, Beijing (2018); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2017); Castello di Rivoli, Turin (2017); Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2016); ArtisTree, Hong Kong (2016); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2015); Long Museum, Shanghai (2014); Lucerne Museum of Art, Lucerne (2011); Centre Pompidou, Paris (2010); Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago (2009); Mudam Luxembourg (2008); Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, Oslo (2007); MoMA, New York (2004).
Liu has participated in numerous biennials, including the 58th and 51st Venice Biennale (2019, 2005); 11th, 8th and 5th Shanghai Biennale (2016, 2010, 2004); 3rd Aichi Triennial (2016); 13th and 9th Biennale de Lyon (2015, 2007); 11th Sharjah Biennale, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (2013); 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st Guangzhou Triennial (2012, 2008, 2005, 2002); and 6th Busan Biennale (2008).
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