“Storytelling” is a solo show by Liu Ye curated by Udo Kittelmann. It includes 35 paintings realized by the Chinese artist from 1992 to the present day. Presented for the first time at Prada Rong Zhai in Shanghai in 2018, the exhibition project was unveiled in Milan in January 2020.
With this exhibition the visitor can discover the intimate and sensual imagery of Liu Ye, who describes each of his works as his own self-portrait. His small and medium format paintings are inspired by literature, art history and popular culture of the European and Chinese worlds. In his paintings, immersed in a suspended atmosphere, the fairy tale is interwoven with subtle irony, parody with amused lyricism.
Regarding his artistic production, the exhibition curator Udo Kittelmann says: “I experienced his paintings as sensitive pictorial messages relayed between two worlds that are often viewed as contradictory: Western cultures versus Asian cultures. Even back then, Liu Ye’s paintings struck me as manifesting a dialectical constellation, for his work is not only interwoven in many ways with China’s manifold cultural developments; it also bears witness to a profound knowledge of the history of European culture and painting.”
In Shanghai, Liu Ye’s works related harmoniously with the original furnishings, decorations and colors of Prada Rong Zhai, the historic 1918 residence restored by Prada and reopened in 2017. In Milan, his paintings clash with the colors and materials of the gallery Nord, one of the foundation’s former industrial buildings. This discrepancy creates a new narrative tension and allows the visitor to focus on Liu Ye’s enigmatic and personal universe, but above all on the pictorial quality of his paintings.
The artist explained his path with these words: “Even though I have never become an abstract artist, I am nonetheless interested in stripping down narrative and simplifying.” His works, in fact, tell stories as if each painted image were the page of a book. Illustrations of historical and imagined events, transpositions of popular legends, portraits of famous actresses and musicians and representations of fictional characters taken from cartoons are part of the exhibition. Some paintings explicitly mention works by other artists such as Piet Mondrian and Rogier van der Weyden and cultural movements like the Bauhaus. Another series of works imitates the forms of art catalogues and fiction books.
As stated by Kittelmann, “Perhaps the fondest wish we can have for a painted picture is that it is capable of conveying feeling. And that is exactly what we become more certain of as we contemplate the paintings by Liu Ye selected for this exhibition. His works can thus serve as a basis for sharing experiences while also as the origin for new stories.”