Ai Weiwei

Liu Bolin | Eli Klein Gallery

by Liz on August 8, 2011

in Art & Design

Liu Bolin, Hiding in the City No. 58- Olympic Emblem, 2007


As I considered a blog post about Chinese contemporary artist Liu Bolin, my mind was at a loss. What could I possibly add to what’s been said about Liu’s Hiding in the City series? Liu is an artist known the world over for his ingenious body of photographs, a man willing to stand patiently for over 10 hours as his assistant paints him to merge fluidly with the background of his choice. So I sought some professional opinion on China’s Invisible Man.

Eli Klein has represented major Chinese contemporary artists at his Soho gallery for four years. In the past, he’s introduced some of China’s most notable artists to New York, including Cui Xuiwen, Zhang Dali and Yang Qian.

“Outside China, Liu is the most famous Chinese artist in the West. For his art.”

Mr. Klein has been bridging the cultural divide between New York and Beijing, and his reasons are compelling. “Chinese contemporary art is underrepresented in America. It constitutes a quarter of the world, and it’s becoming more powerful each day. It’s natural then its art would also be rising.”

Liu Bolin, Hiding in the City No. 89- Forbidden City, 2010

The rise Mr. Klein alludes to is multifarious. Chinese contemporary artists have become globally prominent in the art world over the past two decades, a change that’s both reflective of Chinese society and its increasing exposure – and response – to Western art and popular culture. Great talent has been borne out of the contemporary art movement in China. Artists like Wang Qingsong, Wang Guangyi, Ai Weiwei, and Cai Guoqiang don’t just bridge East and West, they bridge two significant eras of Chinese modern history. They haven’t just lived through the Mao years then capitalism with Chinese characteristics, either. They also try to explain what has happened, or is happening in present-day China. Like all great artists, they convey the conditions of human life in a way that resonates with their best audience.

And what about Liu Bolin? Liu was born in 1973, so he doesn’t share the reminiscences of the Cultural Revolution that artists such as Wang Guangyi or Zhang Xiaogang pour into their works. Instead, Liu’s art is uncompromisingly modern and Chinese, but Chinese in a way that’s discernibly universal, because Liu’s art is a form of social protest against conformism. The conformism Liu is rebelling against was best explained by a performance he enacted at the gallery not too long ago, when he disappeared into a rack of popular magazines, a vivid illustration of how fashion and propaganda are obliterating individuality.

Liu Bolin, Hiding in the City No. 93 - Supermarket No. 2, 2010

Liu’s manifesto has a ring of truth, because it speaks to the quiet anguish of every man about our own inadequacies and irrelevance. We inevitably enter into a certain kind of relationship with Liu’s art, because he communicates his feelings so well, we don’t really needs words to understand his philosophy. And his expression is so powerfully true that, as I stood before his works, I felt that his feelings of undue protest were my own – and not someone else’s. And through Liu’s deft artistry, I began to understand Chinese contemporary art is not just art that’s Chinese, but art that’s compellingly universal.

Liu Bolin, Teatro alla Scala, 2010

The Invisible Man exhibit at Eli Klein Gallery has been extended to September 28. For more information see Eli Klein Fine Art.


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