Artist to Know: Liang Yuanwei

Liz Catalano
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Aste Bolaffi’s Upcoming Sale Presents Three Meticulous Flower Paintings

Liang Yuanwei, one of China’s rising contemporary women artists, has long recognized the challenge of building a career in patriarchal art spaces. Despite difficulties obtaining gallery space and gaining respect without tokenization, Liang continues to push the boundaries of contemporary painting. Two decades of artmaking have delivered a lesson of cautious self-reliance. Speaking with Culture Trip’s Luise Guest in a 2016 interview, Liang described her artistic journey: “I now think more about the relationship between myself as the artist, my work and the world. I have become a curator of myself.”

Three oil paintings from Liang will be available in Aste Bolaffi’s upcoming sale, held on December 14th, 2020, at 11:00 AM EST. Get to know Liang Yuanwei before placing a bid.

Liang Yuanwei, 2017. Image from K11 Art Foundation.
Liang Yuanwei, 2017. Image from K11 Art Foundation.

Liang has spent years finding her place in the art world. Born in the capital of China’s Shaanxi province, she struggled to teach herself painting techniques. She sometimes enlisted the help of younger undergraduate students to learn the basics of canvas stretching before finally earning her art degree. With time, Liang established herself as a multidisciplinary artist in Beijing. Her early years saw extensive experimentation as she switched between painting, photography, and full-scale installations. 

By the early 2000s, Liang began painting the canvases that would propel her to international recognition. She leans equally on the thick brushstrokes of Paul Cézanne and her rich cultural heritage while creating replicas of fabric scraps. Some of her subjects are heavy silks and brocades, while others are simple aprons and tablecloths. By imitating the work of the loom with her paintbrush, Liang seeks to explore the compulsory femininity of her society. Liang’s work also challenges the notions of “high art” by drawing upon mass-produced commercial designs. 

Even Liang’s seemingly plain paintings require hours of work. They often recall the layered style of Italian frescoes, requiring extreme patience and forethought. The artist has described the time-consuming nature of her system: “Every painting was started from the top and drawn to the bottom, which means when I was painting on the top part, the rest of the canvas was still empty. Only after I finished the whole painting, I could finally see the complete picture of it.” Once the paint dries, Liang is unable to correct any mistakes. She has thrown out more than one painting during the arduous process.

Liang Yuanwei, oil paintings from 50 Pieces of Still Life, 2006. Image from Aste Bolaffi.
Liang Yuanwei, oil paintings from 50 Pieces of Still Life, 2006. Image from Aste Bolaffi.

The upcoming auction will feature three works from Liang’s 50 Pieces of Life painting series. All three of the paintings bear an intentional flatness, appearing almost printed compared to some of the artist’s more textured works. “I treated it as a searching project,” Liang said about the series in her digital portfolio. The three paintings coming to auction in December are together offered with an estimate of EUR 10,000 to €15,000 (USD 11,970 – $17,950).

Liang’s paintings have only recently appeared on the international art industry’s radar. She enjoyed her first solo exhibition in 2008 and represented China in the 2011 Venice Biennale. Curators are also spending more time with Liang’s work. Robbin Peckhem wrote about the artist’s output after her inaugural exhibition at Boers-Li Gallery: “It offers no shock, and no explicit message. It stands for reassurance, subtle pleasure, and, if you are looking for it, resistance.”

Liang Yuanwei, untitled painting, 2013. Image from Christie’s.
Liang Yuanwei, untitled painting, 2013. Image from Christie’s.

At auction, Liang is establishing a growing presence. One of her detailed floral paintings achieved HKD 3,024,000 (USD 390,150) at Sotheby’s in October of 2020. Liang executed the piece ahead of her 2016 show at the Palazzo Pisani in Venice. In another recent auction, Christie’s sold an untitled piece for HKD 5,165,000 (USD 666,400), well above the high estimate of HKD 4,000,000 (USD 516,100). The majority of Liang’s paintings have sold within or above their presale auction estimates over the last several years, reflecting a market that is increasingly interested in her art. 

Today, Liang continues to study the formal language of frescoes while developing her own techniques. Most importantly, she still works to redefine what is possible for women artists. “To use bunches of flowers as a subject matter is in itself pretty nauseating, and it can all too easily be understood as being inherently feminine,” Liang told CoBo Social. “I like challenging such misconceptions, and think that I can make this banal and stereotypical subject tenable.”

Aste Bolaffi will present Liang’s work alongside over 130 other lots in the upcoming Contemporary and Modern Art auction. The live sale will be held at 11:00 AM EST on December 14th, 2020. Visit Invaluable for more information and to place a bid.

Looking for more upcoming auctions? Check out Auction Daily’s auction calendar.

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