The untitled prelude piece of Liu Wei’s exhibition “Trilogy” was also its summation. From the middle of the Minsheng Art Museum’s airy atrium rose a miniature cityscape. The rough-hewn base grew into detailed forms of solid office blocks grouped around the spires of skyscrapers. Liu’s material: the printed page. He had bundled together old books-primarily Chinese-language textbooks on law, psychology and Communist ideology, although occasional lines from English magazines also peep from the edifices. A city of words, the piece recalls how urban Chinese society is based on orthodoxies (Confucian, Marxist, capitalist) successively adopted and discarded.
Liu (b. 1972), known for his visual jokes (most famously, a 2004 “landscape” photograph of human asses), is fluent in a multiplicity of mediums, with minimal stylistic constancy beyond his occasional embrace of the architectural and geometric.
For the first part, “Golden Section,” Lin took a cue from Ai Weiwei, carving up four typical Chinese bureaus and wardrobes and inserting lengths of metal to render the furniture outsized. The front two pieces were made from the shiny, dark rococo chests popular with local parvenus, while the back two were created from the simple pale wood dressers ubiquitous in China’s more egalitarian 1980s. Liu made the older, shabbier furnishings larger and more looming, yet more distant and fragmented-much the way his generation now recalls the post-Mao reopening period. The furnishings were accompanied by disassembled packing crates that garnished the room’s entrance and walls, along with a black-and-white painting from Liu’s abstract “Meditation” series (2010-11) mounted at the back of the gallery. Viewed head-on, the diverse elements cohered into a single symmetric whole.
Searching out hidden symmetries also provided visual pleasure in the section called “Merely a Mistake.” The ornate construction of recycled wood-streaked with original, now retro, shades of light blue, green and brown-filled the main hall with assemblies that evoked window and door frames from castles or cathedrals, inviting the exercise of collective imagination and memory.
The “Exhibition Site” section included an upended, mutilated tree trunk and several paintings. Purple Haze (2010), featuring colorful horizontal dashes against a gray background under a giant red sun (or ominous eye), presents a cheerfully dystopian vision. The horizontal undulations of Meditation 4 (2011), in black, brown and red slashed with white, seem to move like an ocean and pull the viewer in like a riptide.
The exhibition concluded with “Power,” centering on an assemblage of dormant old TV monitors that intermittently crackled forth some static. Neon lights were mounted in doorlike structures at the front and back of the room. The section presented perhaps an odd finale but an apropos one: the exquisitely eccentric installation as antidote to an age of artistic commercialization.