“I don’t think you can really create anything. … It’s just a question of how you see it, from which perspective.”
Born Beijing, 1972
Liu Wei works in a huge variety of media and styles, but his works centre on illusion—and the shock of its undoing. He likes to play with viewers’ assumptions, setting them up only to flip them inside-out. This approach merges with another broad stream in Liu Wei’s art, the re-exploration of China’s landscape painting tradition. (In his widely reproduced digital photo It Looks Like a Landscape (2004), raised bottoms and hairy thighs pose as a range of hills.) Density 1–6 (2013) presents gigantic versions of the solid geometric forms used as drawing exercises in art schools. Cream-coloured like concrete and ranging in weight from 400 to almost 1500 kg, they look like Platonic abstractions of architecture. In fact, they are made of compressed books—perhaps a comment on the human propensity to reject or neglect what we already know. The title of Purple Air III No. 1 (2006) alludes to the most beneficial form of qi, the energy needed for life. It’s an ironic reference, for the painting shows an urban landscape so tightly packed that it seems to have no air or life at all. The moon swims in a grey miasma, the only tree is dead, and the serried buildings form what looks like a bar code. Yes, That’s All! 2 (2009) reduces landscape even more drastically, to a series of horizons that the artist says are his rendering of “noise, disturbance, distortion”.