“Trilogy” is a revelation, the kind of exhibition that confirms everything one might have hoped to know about an artist. And it comes close to reinforcing a belief in human aesthetic progress. Critic Philip Tinari once described Liu Wei as the sort of artist who is not afraid of failure, and it is true that some of Wei's work, examined now in retrospect, has not stood the test of evolving predilections in contemporary art. With this most recent set of projects, the artist has certainly shifted toward the conservative, drawing on a number of obvious if influential art historical tropes but positioning them with respect to the Chinese urban situation in just such a way that something new is said. We find a new installation of Power (2011), an updated version of the television set installation that earned Liu the epithet “Caochangdi Nam June Paik” during his last solo exhibition at Boers-Li Gallery; then there is Merely a Mistake (2010-2011), a series of wooden architectural cuttings first produced with the Long March Project for the Shanghai Biennale last fall that riffs on Gordon Matta-Clark in order to re-approach the possibility of creative destruction in the Chinese urban experience.
In addition, there are the paintings, which extend the spatial logic of Liu Wei’s well-known Purple Air (2006-2010) series but dull the palette, abstract the line, and exaggerate the texture. Broad swaths of frighteningly flat grey territories are interrupted by thin white lines like foam cresting a wave; curator and artist Colin Chinnery finds in this reference to the horizon in the Meditation paintings (2011) a sort of utopian political resistance to the totalitarian nature of verticality -- which presumably requires a higher degree of infrastructural coordination, even on the picture plane -- but it is actually the radical nature of the interaction between these paintings and the sculptural objects in the space that allows for this interventionist reading. Aside from constructing purely decorative if monumental forms out of the formerly utilitarian architectural elements of Merely a Mistake, Liu Wei builds on this aesthetic in more hybrid directions: in perhaps the most engrossing piece here, fluorescent light tubes and metal spikes resembling analog television antennae are symmetrically thrust upon a fallen tree trunk mounted on a reflective marble disc.
Liu Wei may be moving beyond his experimental phase -- the working methods of which will surely be missed by the group of younger artists over whom he has been massively influential -- for outside viewers, however, this transition to a more consolidated and finished aesthetics is surely a turn for the better.
-- Robin Peckham
(All images courtesy of the Minsheng Art Museum and the artist.)