Liu Xiaodong: Shaanbei
New York, 4 May – 10 June 2023
Lisson Gallery is pleased to present Shaanbei, a new body of work by Liu Xiaodong, one of the artist’s most ambitious and personally significant projects to date. Featuring large-scale paintings, works on paper, diary entries and a documentary, the exhibition expands Liu’s stature as one of China’s foremost artists.
Based in Beijing, Liu Xiaodong frequently travels the world to capture the subjects of his extraordinary paintings of modern life. As a student at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980s, Liu would take regular trips to various locations within the expansive Shaanbei region of China, home to many of his professors, keeping diaries and sketches of the mountainous area surrounding the city of Yan’an and the rural lands far outside the city. The final stop on The Long March – Mao Zedong’s retreat and rise to power – and the effective birthplace of the People’s Republic of China, the Shaanbei province remains a site of considerable historical and political significance. Liu’s return to the region 30 years later in 2018 signaled a revisitation to the foundations of his paintings practice, and allowed him to examine a changing civic landscape. Shaanbei explores the region from both a geopolitical and art historical point of view, while marking the artist’s continuation of his vocation as a painter of modern life.
Liu Xiaodong’s work is the result of direct observation of places of social change. In the Shaanbei series, Liu’s subjects are youths left to their own devices, idle adults and nostalgic elders all extant in a transitioning society. In his traditional observational style and with characteristic attention to detail, Liu captures the experience of a new generation driving the politics of tomorrow. In Brawl 打斗 (2018), Borrowing Money (2019), Brawler (2022) and Irredeemable Loafers (2023) the artist assembles his subjects – six minors aged between 12-16, set in front of two distinct backgrounds; rural and modern Shaanbei. The kids appear aimless, passing the time in a hillside, wearing what might be counterfeit branded leisurewear. The paintings reference a woodblock print by preeminent Chinese modernist Wang Shikuo, Reforming Loafers (1947), reprimanding the perceived laziness of a younger generation. In contrast, Liu’s group of centennials might be subject to similar social and political pressures, but are also further unmoored in a sea of false hopes, cell phones and Western consumer clobber.Read more
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