As Europe’s cultural institutions tip-toe back to life, there’s a temptation to scour each reopening for poetic reflections on the new normals and future synergies of post-coronavirus art. In this regard, Liu Ye’s “Storytelling” at Fondazione Prada (Milan) offers more than most.
Start with the will to continue as evidenced by the reopening of an exhibition forced to shut shortly after its late-January launch with coronavirus raging across northern Italy. Or the enduring strength of Sino-Italian connections reflected by Fondazione Prada delivering to Milan an exhibition held at its Shanghai cultural space, Rong Zhai, back in 2018. Most compelling, however, in reflecting the relevancy of “Storytelling” for a world still in the shadows of a pandemic is the artist and his work.
Liu is a painter who is global in aesthetics, education, and appeal. Trained as a muralist at two of Beijing’s prestigious art colleges, he spent his 30s in Europe, first at Berlin’s Academy of Fine Arts and later as the Artist in Residence at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. A willingness to cross-pollinate artistic sensibilities has been central to his rise as one of a handful of contemporary Chinese artists capable of demanding multimillion dollar price-tags at auction houses from Hong Kong to New York.
Such intercultural connections are clearly on display across the 35 works hanging in Fondazione Prada’s Nord gallery. Liu comfortably situates the trappings of Mao-era China alongside elements of European modernism (Daydream, 1997), pokes fun at fairytale conventions (Pinocchio, 2011), and frequently reinterprets the western predilection for still-lifes and portraiture.
The exhibition’s curator, Udo Kittelmann, considers the artist an ambassador engaged in a fruitful, cross-cultural dialogue, “I experienced his paintings as sensitive pictorial messages relayed between two worlds that are often viewed as contradictory: Western cultures versus Asian cultures.”
While it’s hardly novel to offer a Chinese artist as an individual capable of bridging seemingly divergent cultures, the level of international attention — and bidding — generated whenever Liu’s paintings are on auction speaks to the global appeal of his bright, flat paintings and their childlike characters.
Those who do venture through the stripped back industrial buildings of Fondazione Prada will find paintings striving to capture moments of stories, moments which transcend time and, perhaps, cultures.