Leading Western galleries have been on a tear recently to sign new Chinese artists to their rosters, from Gladstone (the outsider artist Guo Fengyi) to Gagosian (Jia Aili and Hao Liang) to Greene Naftali (Gang Zhao). For its new addition, David Zwirner Gallery opted for an artist who fits squarely in its comfort zone: Liu Ye, a Beijing-born painter who studied in Germany (and speaks German). The artist is influenced by European Modernists such as Mondrian and the Bauhaus school, has a terrifically hot market (his record of $5.5 million was set a Sotheby’s Hong Kong a few years back), and has unimpeachable curatorial credibility (he was featured in the last Venice Biennale).
Known for painting cute children, sometimes toting swords, and childlike women, often in erotic scenarios, he is also enamored of books (his father is a children’s book author, his mother a schoolteacher) and he includes them in many of his paintings, lovingly rendering them in luscious paint. This particular book painting, which Zwirner brought to Hong Kong to mark the artist’s entry to the gallery stable, has some extra added significance: featured in the artist’s Venice Biennale presentation, it is also the final work in his 1991–2015 catalogue raisonné, so selling it through the gallery here marks the turning of a page, and the opening a new chapter in the artist’s career.