Chinese contemporary art

Yang Qian | Eli Klein Gallery

by Liz on August 25, 2011

in Art & Design

Details of Yang Qian, Dual Layer Painting No. 1, 2010

I have never met Yang Qian, but if I do, I wonder whether he, too, metamorphoses under ultra-violet light, the way George Bush, David Beckham, and Tiger Woods does in a series of his works that were on display at Eli Klein earlier this year.

Yang’s paintings occupied the lower level of Mr. Klein’s gallery from December to January, and for a combination of reasons (chiefly procrastination) I haven’t given this Chinese contemporary artist his proper due.

I discovered Yang completely by chance, because my original intention was to take a closer look at the photography of Cui Xuiwen, a concurrent exhibit that was taking place at the gallery’s ground level.

Yang’s paintings on display were examples of kinetic paintings. I don’t really know what that means, but I can tell you what I saw. With the help of ultra-violet light that switched on at regular intervals, Yang’s depictions came to life.

You see, under ordinary light, Yang’s paintings appear to be benign portraits of people. Men. Women. Black. White. You initially shrug and think, that’s nice, but so what?

Cue ultra-violet light, and the demons fly out of the canvas. Not literally of course, but there’s certainly something both sinister and risible taking place as Bush turns Taliban Imam, or a Chinese dignitary is transformed into a defaced caricature.

Yang’s startling but brilliant paintings involve the use of a colorless, fluorescent paint over completed works, so that each work shows another side of the subject when it’s viewed in a different light. There’s certainly a grain of truth to the duality, maybe even deceit, that lives and breathes within the canvas. And whether his works draw you or not, the yin and the yang of Yang’s visual satire grabs you at first sight, and the experience stays with you. (In my case, eight months and counting!)

I’ve googled high and low for more information on Yang Qian, but writing on the artist is scant and hard to find, at least in English. Do leave a comment if you would like to share any information on Yang’s works or his philosophy. He’s definitely one of the most memorable Chinese contemporary artists I’ve encountered, a pool of world-class talent that we keep hearing more about every day.

Details of Dual Layer Painting No. 1 (2010), the same painting as above under ordinary light

First you see Bush...

...then you (kind of) don't.

Details of Dual Layer Painting No. 7, (2010), under ordinary light.

Same painting. Different light.

Details of Dual Layer Painting No. 3, (2010), doesn't look like Tiger Woods...

but there he is!


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.



Chuck Close, Asian Art edition

by Liz on August 7, 2010

in Art & Design

Here’s one way to show your appreciation for Asian contemporary art: take a field trip to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC and take in the work of Chuck Close, an American artist who spearheaded the movement known as photorealism in the ’70s.

Seems like an odd way to connect with the vibrant Asian art scene, but Close’s immeasurable influence on two Asian artists, Kang Hyung Koo (Korea) and Zhang Huan (China), compels myself to rethink Asian contemporary art. Many Asian artists today train at fine arts schools in their home countries, where they near-mechanically hone their skills in the fundamentals of drawing and painting. They go onto create art that reflects their cultural heritage but using Western art techniques they learned at local universities or graduate schools in the West.

Kang Hyung Koo’s enormous canvases of famous faces in both real and imagined poses have an unforgettable depth that photographs cannot reproduce. There’s such great layers to each of his works, that when I just look at his paintings of Van Gogh, Hepburn or Monroe, I feel completely immersed in the body of the painter’s dimensions. The genealogical hand-me-down from Close is quite obvious.





Zhang Huan’s paintings most approximate to an homage to Close are his drawings/paintings created with ash from temples around Shanghai. In an interview with Close, Zhang points out the ash is not something you can actually buy or collect, because “the ash embodies all the dreams and wishes of all the people when they are offering their spirits.”

Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration is on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art from July 3 to September 12.