I just had a few days of holidays in Milan. Well … holidays was not the plan but an exit to meet my husband in a zone which was quarantine friendly for travellers between Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. So the capital of Lombardy, hit so hard by the pandemic in March, was now a fringe benefit.

Apart from looking each other straight into the eyes, we had time to chat over delicious food, walk 25.000+ steps per day, enjoy the sun and discover some art. Basically our favourite cocktail when we have some time off together.

Discovering art is perhaps not the right word when you talk about Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. I had seen the painting multiple times in books and on screen but never in real live. We were like 16 earlybird-ticketholders in the Santa Maria delle Grazie and “oh my god”, that was a beautiful moment. Being an atheist I would call that slot between 9 – 9.15 that Friday morning my second best “religious” moment, Corbusier’s Chapel at Ronchamps ranking first. The emotions captured in that painting after he spoke his famous words.

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”

Luke 22:19-22

But the weekend held surprises after that highlight. Whenever in Milan we go to 10 Corso Como, which is a clothes shop, bookstore, restaurant & gallery and to the Fondazione Prada. That is where we discovered just two amazing contemporary Asian artists. It made me realise how little I know about Asian history and art.

Ren Hang

People come into this world naked and I consider naked bodies to be people’s original, authentic look. I feel the real existence of people through their naked bodies

Ren Hang lived in what looks like a small bubble of friends, who had a very intimate life behind closed doors, where Hang explored their friendship and sexuality. This intimacy left the front door in his pictures, but Chinese authorities would arrest him more than once because of these erotic undertones.

Hang committed suicide at the age 29 in 2017.

I don’t want others having the impression that Chinese people are robots with no cocks or pussies, or they do have sexual genitals but always keep them as some secret treasures. I want to say that our cocks and pussies are not embarrassing at all.

Liu Ye

Liu Ye’s paintings struck me as manifesting a dialectical constellation, for his work is not only interwoven in many ways with China’s manifold cultural developments; it also bears witness to a profound knowledge of the history of European culture and painting. His pictures are grounded equally in traditional Eastern and Western intellectual and artistic trends, cojoining the strengths of the past and the future.

Udo Kittelmann, Director Nationalgalerie, Berlin
Mondrian in the Morning, 2000, private collection Beijing

I had never, never heard of Liu Ye. Filip and I consider ourselves art lovers and connoisseurs but this proves my world view is biased by cultural and personal backgrounds. Liu’s work blew me away. With plenty of reference to icons in my world – Mondrian, Rogier van der Weyden, Chet Baker, Catherine Deneuve, Miffy (Musti for my Flemish and Dutch readers) , … – this is “pure” Asian art.

This exhibition, titled Storytelling, was first presented in 2018 at Prada Rong Zhai in Shanghai. Hanged on colourful walls this was an Asian reference. In Milan the same paintings were shown in an industrial Rem Koolhaas’ setting. I regret not having seen this work in Shanghai as it could have unbiased my bias.

walls, Shanghai and Milan

The motif of star-crossed lovers seperated by adverse circumstances is deeply rooted in myth and legend. Examples of and correlations for such lovers can be found in all cultures. The most famous in the history of Western literature is arguably William Shakespeare’s Romeo an Juliet, who embody a passions so norms and demands meld into one. This love that needs no others transgresses the bounds of authoritarian group identification as demanded by society. The amour fou between Romean and Juliet is thus doomed from the start and meets a tragic end through suicide.

Udo Kittelman
Romeo, 2002, Fu Ruide collection, Amsterdam.

A good introduction to Ren Hang is provided by Dian Hanson at Taschen.

The Fondazione Prada have a booklet per exhibition. Liu Ye is number #28.