This fall the CMA presents Liu Wei, a collaborative exhibition with the Museum of Contemporary Art (moCa) Cleveland. This is the first solo US museum exhibition devoted to internationally renowned artist Liu Wei. Works will be displayed concurrently at both institutions, offering an expansive view of the artist’s diverse practice.
Liu Wei was born in Beijing in 1972 as the Cultural Revolution was coming to an end. Liu and his family migrated throughout China during his youth because his parents, both physicians, were often assigned to new hospitals and clinics. Part of a generation of artists whose careers emerged during a period of rapid urbanization, he explores the social and political complexities of modern Chinese society. Using a range of media, including photography, painting, sculpture, and installation, he frequently integrates architectural forms into his work to reference his physical surroundings. Presenting the city as a vital force, Liu’s work poses questions related to the speed of modern life that undergirds urban growth. This perspective is distilled in works on view at the CMA.
The CMA’s presentation centers on Panorama No. 2 (2015–16), generously given to the museum by Richard and Michelle Shan Jeschelnig. Conjuring the seemingly infinite skylines of megacities, this monumental diptych exemplifies a technical shift that Liu introduced into his work in 2010, when he began using computer software to generate patterns of pixels that are converted onto canvas and then filled with color. While Panorama No. 2 refers to the artist’s architectural surroundings, because of the computer-driven patterning the imagery is not entirely representative, shifting between figuration and abstraction.
The imagery in Panorama No. 2 comes off the wall into real space through Love It, Bite It No. 3 (2014), a series of large-scale representations of architectural monuments made from animal edibles, primarily rawhide dog chews. In a witty contradiction, both the suggested power and the iconic status of the buildings are undermined through their sculptural material, which lends them a sense of fragility—and the potential for instant destruction at the whim of an animal. The work exemplifies Liu’s ongoing interest in exploring modernity through reverence and skepticism.
The subject of solo exhibitions at numerous international venues, Liu has also participated in several global biennials and significant contemporary art surveys, including most recently at the 58th Venice Biennale (2019); Faurschou Foundation, Beijing (2018); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2017); and Castello di Rivoli, Turin (2017). Among other accomplishments, the artist was nominated for the 2011 Credit Suisse Today Art Award and received the Chinese Contemporary Art Award for Best Artist in 2008.
In 2016 Michelle accompanied Reto Thüring, the CMA’s former curator of contemporary art, to Beijing to visit the artist in his studio. “We were both mesmerized by his complex, large-scale paintings of cities created with computer software,” she recalls. “Their intricate geometric patterns and color symbolize a universal urban metropolis.”
Cityscapes resonate with Michelle, who lives in Cleveland with her husband and daughters, Lindsey and Elise. She travels frequently to Paris, Beijing, and Shanghai as the deputy general manager for Fives, an industrial-engineering group based in France.
A 2014 recipient of France’s Chevalier de Légion d’Honneur, Michelle serves on the CMA board of trustees. Over the past five years, she and Richard have generously sponsored the exhibitions Albert Oehlen: Woods near Oehle; Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse; and Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors.
“It was a great pleasure to give Panorama No. 2 to the Cleveland Museum of Art, as the work represents my personal cultural heritage and passion for contemporary Chinese art,” she says. “We hope the painting inspires visitors to think about China’s dynamic presence as a leader in global art.”