Liu Xiaodong, Ning Dai in Person Having a Laugh, 2021. Oil on canvas, 250 x 300 cm. Courtesy the artist.
UCCA Edge presents its first solo exhibition, Liu Xiaodong: Your Friends from August 8, 2021 to October 10, 2021. Liu Xiaodong (b. 1963, Jincheng, Liaoning province) is the contemporary heir to modern China’s realist painting tradition. Emerging in the 1990s, he began to depict what one critic called “minute but fragmentary observations of life” with snapshot clarity, turning the previously heroic tools of oil painting onto characters and subjectivities at all levels of a rapidly urbanizing and developing society. This exploration unfolded in parallel to a new documentary aesthetic in the works of “Sixth Generation” filmmakers such as Wang Xiaoshuai and Zhang Yuan, with whom he has frequently collaborated. Since the early 2000s, Liu has often worked through plein air sessions staged in globally significant, even fraught, locations, from the Three Gorges Dam (2003) to the U.S.-Mexico border (2020). For his 2010 exhibition “Hometown Boy” at UCCA Beijing, the artist trained his lens on his childhood friends from the paper mill town of Jincheng, in an extended meditation on personal transformation and social mobility.
For the first solo exhibition to be mounted at UCCA Edge, Liu turns to the people who have been closest to him, both personally and artistically: his immediate family and his dearest interlocutors. This new cycle, “Your Friends,” is exhibited in the 3/F and 4/F galleries, and complimented by preparatory materials including sketches and journals, as well as a documentary film by director Yang Bo. On 2/F, a selection of earlier works elaborates the connections between affect, circumstance, and portraiture that run throughout his work, as well as works created from the artist’s travel around the world in recent years. Bringing together new works created in the months following Liu’s return from an extended stay in New York during the early stages of the pandemic with previous works chosen for their resonance within this context, this presentation shows an artist bringing the same sensitivity and acuity to bear on his own surroundings that he has previously directed towards others. In doing so, he invites us to think about the ties that bind us to our moment and to each other.
Divided into three sections, this exhibition follows the artist’s footprints from small-town Northeast China, tracking his travels throughout China and abroad, and ending with the series “Your Friends,” completed upon his return to China after an extended pandemic-year stay in New York.
The first section, “The Anonymous Walker,” brings together previous works exemplary of the artist’s photographic eye in his realist painting practice. Here, Liu immerses himself in the lives of others as a painter, creating warm, humanistic works en plein air that engage with the geopolitical specificity and narratives of marginalized and transitory communities in places including his hometown, the Chinatown neighborhoods of Tuscany, refugee routes in Europe, ship breaking yards in the Bangladesh port city of Chittagong, and ultimately, his adopted hometown of Beijing.
The second section, “Lands Revisited,” features square portraits, still lifes, photographs, paintings on photographs, and two watercolor notebooks—Heitukeng Compositions and Half a Lifetime—that together capture the two-fold meaning of lands revisited for Liu: his observations of life in pandemic-era New York, where he and his artist wife Yu Hong first set foot in as young artists decades ago; and the studies of his family and friends made upon a recent return to his father’s hometown Heitukeng in Northeast China. These watercolors are buoyed by a narrative sensibility previously not found in his larger-scale works, revealing a more personal and emotional side of his practice.
The final section, “Your Friends,” features new portraits of those nearest and dearest to the artist in life and art, as he contemplates the depth of these decades-long connections, their senescence and mortality. Subjects include renowned writer Ah Cheng and leading directors in China’s “Sixth Generation” cinema Wang Xiaoshuai and Zhang Yuan, as well as Liu’s mother, brother, and Yu Hong. The title of the exhibition was inspired by Zhang Yuan’s constant use of the phrase “your friends” during their portrait sessions.
The accompanying exhibition catalogue reproduces the works on view, alongside a selection of the artist’s diaries and stills from the titular documentary film. It includes an essay by Philip Tinari that discusses these recent works, a text by anthropologist Xiang Biao that explores bodily imagery in Liu’s paintings, and a dialogue between Yan Fang and the artist about the curatorial themes of the exhibition. The catalogue is designed by Studio Pianpian He & Max Harvey and published by Zhejiang Photographic Press.
About the Artist
Liu Xiaodong (b. 1963, Jincheng, Liaoning province, China) lives and works in Beijing. He studied oil painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, which he graduated from in 1988, and where he now teaches as a tenured professor. His work has been shown in major solo exhibitions at venues around the world including Dallas Contemporary (2020); Louisiana Museum of Art, Humlebæk, Denmark (2019); Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and NRW Forum, Germany (2018); Palazzo Strozzi-Strozzina, Florence (2016); Today Art Museum, Beijing (2013); Kunsthaus Graz, Austria (2012); and UCCA Beijing (2010). He has participated in group exhibitions at institutions including Somerset House, London (2020); the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2017); Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2016); Long Museum, Shanghai (2014); Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai (2012); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2008); and Centre Pompidou, Paris (2003). His work has also been included in the Gwangju Biennale (2014); Venice Biennale (1997, 2013); Havana Biennial (2009); Biennale of Sydney (2006); and Shanghai Biennale (2000).
About the exhibition
Dates: 2021.8.8 - 2021.10.10
Venue: UCCA Edge
Courtesy of the artist and UCCA Center for Contemporary Art.