Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Liu Bolin: Lost in Art @Klein

JTF (just the facts): A total of 21 large scale color photographs,  unframed and hung in the two main gallery spaces, a small back room, and a portion of the downstairs gallery. All of the works are chromogenic prints, mounted on Sintra and faced with Plexi, and made between 2007 and 2011. The prints come in four sizes: 25x32, 37x47, 47x59, or 58x79, in edition sizes of 6 or 8. There are also two sculptures on display, from 2007 and 2012. A catalog of the exhibit is available from the gallery. The downstairs space includes an unrelated group of 22 diptychs by Zhang Dali. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: The eye-catching works of Chinese artist Liu Bolin are at once "photography" and "performance art", mixing the optical illusion effects of a camera-based image with the physical demands of an artistic performance. His underlying formula is remarkably consistent: find an appropriate location and then paint his entire body in such a way that he can stand in the scene and seem to disappear. The process is painstaking and lengthy, but the camouflage generally works and he becomes remarkably invisible.
My initial reaction to this conceptual approach was that it seemed like a gimmick, an overly decorative Where's Waldo kind of game. But when Liu chooses his settings well, the idea of a human becoming invisible starts to gain more power. In front of a wall of stuffed animal pandas or colorful soft drink cans, he's lost in consumerism and China's burgeoning economic power. In front of an outdoor kiosk covered in flyers from job seekers, he's lost in unemployment and the challenges of migration to the big cities. In front of the Ground Zero construction site and a wall of remembrance tiles here in New York, he's lost in the meanings and resonances of that event. The visual trickery is always clever; it's when the symbolism is well chosen that the motif is most successful. The exhibit also includes a selection of images made in collaboration with famous fashion designers. Jean Paul Gaultier and Angelea Missoni disappear into signature fabrics and patterns, while Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Piccioli of Valentino and Alber Elbaz of Lanvin vanish into displays of their work. The metaphorical message is less clear here, but the images are still striking. 
In many ways, these photographs are straightforward and easy to like. But the best of these works are more than just a sight gag; they offer layers of additional meanings and readings that go beyond the fun and magic. In my view, these are the images that will ultimately have the most durability, as they add complex cultural questions to the entertainment.
Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced based on size. The 25x32 prints are $9000, the 37x47 prints are $12000, the 47x59 prints are $15000, and the 58x79 prints are $36000. Liu's work has only just begun to find its way into the secondary markets for photography, but there have been too few sales to chart any kind of reliable price history. As such, gallery retail is still likely the best option for interested collectors.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Reviews/Features: Harper's Bazaar (here), Time LightBox (here), Designboom (here), Fashionista (here), Arrested Motion (here)
Liu Bolin: Lost in Art
Through May 11th

Eli Klein Fine Art
462 West Broadway
New York, NY 10012

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