Liu Xiaodong in New York: June 2020
The scene depicted in Liu Xiaodong’s June 2020, New York (2020) was painted in a makeshift studio in a small apartment in the West Village (portrait above by Cai Wenyou) from photographs and studies made at the corner of Washington and Christopher Streets, just off of the usually bustling West Side Highway. In his daily routine of exploring this neighbourhood during the city’s lockdown, Liu came upon a Black Lives Matter protest held during what would have been the 2020 Pride Parade on the last Sunday in June. Shown at Lisson Gallery, East Hampton, 24 September – 4 October 2020.
“Has the pandemic quieted down? And so did BLM too? Or should we expect things to get even worse? I have no idea, my eyes only go as far as this, I see a huge troop of protesters crossing in front of my apartment, cars stuck in the streets, a sports car driven by a black man surpassing on the wrong side of the road and freaking out the big crowd of demonstrators. I see young white people arguing with the police, I see LGBT communities gathering merrily as before, I see countless people of all the ethnicities working out by the river. And I paint them, I paint what my eyes can see.”
Extracts taken from Liu Xiaodong’s diary, Spring in New York, 2020
In this accompanying film, Spring in New York, Liu Xiaodong discusses this recent body of work, while walking the streets of New York City. Produced by Meerkat Media © 2020.
In his traditional observational style and with characteristic attention to detail, Liu captures the experiences of the city during this landmark moment for health, racial justice and politics. A difficult period for both New York and the nation, and at time when the artist was himself in a place of uncertainty in a city far from home, he is able to document this ordinary moment in exceptional cinematic detail, while also paying homage to the city’s architecture, in a radical and political update of Gustave Caillebotte’s masterful Paris Street; Rainy Day of 1877 (at Art Institute of Chicago).
“In 2020 we all know the world is chaotic and not really fair. We all wish this year could be over soon, that we could just wipe it out of our calendars, to go back to the past, even though the past wasn’t perfect either. The reality is like watching two films at the same time, a tragedy and a comedy. In the tragedy, each and every frame of the film is relatively happy, compared to the sheer desperation of the ending, while in the comedy none of the frames are fully satisfying until the perfection reached upon the end.”
“New York has been under curfew for many days now, and almost all the shops facing the streets in the West Village, SoHo, Chelsea, 42nd Street, and others have been boarded up. There is intensive media coverage of the events that are plunging the country into chaos. It appears as if America is on the verge of a revolution.”
Based in Beijing, Liu Xiaodong frequently travels the world to capture the subjects of his extraordinary paintings of modern life. He was passing through New York from a project in Texas when the pandemic hit and his flights home were suddenly cancelled. He spent the lockdown createding a series of watercolour paintings documenting the changing landscape of the city, which were the subject of the exhibition on Lisson Gallery’s website in early July.
The content of Liu Xiaodong's paintings is never transitory; his identified subject matter transpires as in-depth, complex artistic and social projects, be it documenting the life of transsexuals in Singapore (2001) or transgender and transnational artists in Berlin (2018), the forced relocation and supposed progress of Three Gorges Project in China (2003) or the complexities of multicultural life in his London series, Half Street (2013). As John Yau wrote, in an article for Hyperallergic on the Spring in New York series, “We are the lucky beneficiaries of a vision at once candid and sophisticated, open and sincere, witty and compassionate — an unlikely combination in this dark, nerve-fraying, and isolating period in history.”
“The social context it’s the concealed narrative behind every artwork, the reason why it leads to so many mental associations is that the social context makes it thus. Therefore a painter truly gets a great deal, no matter what he paints, people will always come up with greater, more numerous mental associations.”