Liu Bolin

Liu Bolin, Hiding in the City No. 83, 2009, Photograph, 47 1/4 × 47 1/4 inches. Courtesy of Eli Klein Fine Art.

Today is Black Friday.

In the United States, this is a chance for citizens to prove their financial worth by shopping for things they don’t really need. Or, go into debt trying to accomplish this bizarre feat.

Through some Foucauldian coup of governmentality, we now believe a citizen isn’t really a citizen unless that citizen is also a consumer.

This isn’t just the case in the West — to an even greater degree this holds true in the capitalist domains of East Asia.

You could say I write this out of cynicism, but in some ways, though, the ceaseless brainwashing campaign that has people running, pushing, and trampling on each other for a lampshade or a video game console has been so successful, that by and large we don’t even take its effects into scrutiny. We take them for granted.

I spotted this “bizarre North Korean documentary” on Laughing Squid in August. But both times I’ve found nothing really bizarre about it, only some interesting Marxist perspectives about class, capitalism, and the manufacturing of propaganda so frighteningly effective it is, in many ways, impossible to dismantle.

One interesting example loops the creation of the ‘consumer slave’ (i.e. us) to the raising of funds/taxes that then go onto finance wars in the Middle East that damages thousands of innocent lives in these countries. Another points out the creation of the vague, empty slogan, something everyone can rally around. Everyone, that is, who are consumers.

The origins of the documentary are unclear. The YouTube user who uploaded the video claims it was handed down from North Koreans disguised as defectors. But my guess is it might even be a creation of South Korean producers with very clever North Korean touch-ups.

In the end, capitalism isn’t ugly because it creates armies of slave labor that stamp out t-shirts for Walmart that its wearers don’t really need. Capitalism is ugly, not to mention a bit scary, because it is a source of fuel for ongoing wars.

It’s the building of an empire that can’t be dismantled. Imperialism without a face.

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Liu Bolin at Eli Klein Gallery earlier today

True to form on a warm spring day, Chinese artist Liu Bolin disappeared into his background: toy shelves stocked with Disney characters manufactured in China.

I’ve blogged about Liu before, so if any of you are curious about some aspects of his art, and why he keeps awing the world with his Invisible Man series, don’t forget to read around. But standing just a few feet away as two assistants laboriously painted his hands, face, and even his hair, it wasn’t difficult to gain renewed respect for the artist.

Liu stood for close to two hours as he gradually camouflaged himself into shelves at FAO Schwarz. The statement was brilliant, the language universal. It was also a moving experience to see up close the kind of forbearance required by the artist as he used his own body as a canvas, in a form of protest against the material conformity that was the topic de jour.

I managed to capture some video footage which has been transformed into a slow motion capture, which you can see below and also on Vimeo. The assistants swiftly carried out his instructions, and most of the time they held a yellow pad between them, with a diagram of Liu’s face that included indications as to what color goes where. Everything happened pretty quickly, which is why when you watch the slowdown of this performance, it’s a slightly different experience than the one had by the audience this afternoon, but also more telling about who Liu is as an artist: a latter-day Buddha with the stoicism to match.

Liu Bolin will be present at Eli Klein gallery on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 from 6 – 9 PM, for the opening of a new exhibition that’s on view from March 20th through May 11th, 2012.

Liu Bolin from Elizabeth on Vimeo.

Everything lining up nicely.

Almost out of the picture.

A palette board where Liu's assistants mixed colors before taking to their canvas.

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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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