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Eli Klein





The Beautiful Camouflage of Liu Bolin



All art possesses intrinsic value and needs no other reason for being, but even more powerful is art with a message.  Such are the most famous works of Chinese artist Liu Bolin, who in the past few years has gained international attention for his photographs of people (often himself) with their clothes and bodies painted so as to be nearly indistinguishable from their surroundings.  The message of these photos is clearly a silent yet provocative commentary on the suppression of, or disregard for, individuality in modern society.  Liu portrays multiple aspects of this theme in his projects, including product brand identity forced upon the public by the advertising industry, the alienated invisibility felt by urban dwellers in mass population centers, and the lockstep conformity encouraged by governments such as his own in China.

Liu, who has been called “The Invisible Man”, was born in the Shandong province of China in 1973, and received an undergraduate degree from Shandong Arts Institute.  Following this, he moved to Beijing in 1999 and earned a master’s degree in sculpture from its Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2001.  Like many artists, he struggled to make a living from his craft after graduation.  Liu says that in China, this situation is even more unfavorable than in many other countries due to the government’s persecution of artists.  In 2006 his Beijing art studio, along with other studios and exhibitions in the Suojiacun artist’s village, were shut down by the Chinese government because they didn’t want groups of artists congregating or living together, according to Liu.  The city’s rush to modernize in preparation for the 2008 Olympics may also have played a role in the village’s destruction.  Liu has stated in interviews that his photographs reflect his experience of artists being undervalued and treated as outcasts from society.

Liu’s photos show painstaking detail, in some cases truly rendering him almost invisible.  Some viewers have speculated that the photos must be digitally altered, but the artist says it’s just a result of great patience and selecting good backgrounds into which to blend.  His photos reportedly take up to ten hours to complete, with the help of an assistant or two who paint him to match the chosen environment.  Some of Liu’s additional themes depict a disregard for human concerns in the face of modern problems, such as urban development and disaster response.

Liu began creating the camouflage photos for which he is most famous in 2006, but he has also completed projects in other media, for example the Red Hand series of sculptures.  At first glance, these sculptures are bright and lighthearted, but upon closer inspection the youthful subjects appear distorted, some having body parts rearranged, faces without eyes, or with their eyes covered.  This could be interpreted as symbolizing a shiny new generation blind to their surroundings, either by choice or by force, yet with content expressions that suggest complacent obliviousness to concerns outside of themselves.

Another of Liu’s projects is dubbed Olympic Warrior, which was related to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  These bronze sculptures are painted in the five colors of the Olympics and are based on the soldiers in the famous terracotta army of emperor Shi Huangdi.  Then there is his controversial Burning Man series, which features bronze furnaces sculpted in the shapes of humans, including some political figures such as Mao Zedong and Barack Obama, which are then set ablaze for display.  Liu claims that these are not necessarily negative images, but could be interpreted as depicting the energy and charisma of these leaders.

Whatever medium he chooses, it appears that Liu has created a niche for himself as a maker of thought provoking pieces that provide compelling silent commentary on many issues facing modern society.  His art has proven relatable to widespread audiences of many cultures, as evidenced by international gallery shows and media coverage.  His easily understood if slightly disturbing themes are packaged in a visually stunning way that helps the medicine of his message go down easily.  Liu Bolin’s creations accomplish the goals of all truly great art:  they draw viewers in with their beauty, accurately reflect the society of the times, and make the audience think about their world in ways that may never have occurred to them before.  Furthermore, he bravely carries out this controversial work under the watchful eye of the Chinese government.  For all of this, 8 Red Gates salutes Liu Bolin and hopes to see him produce many more works of art in years to come.



Recent Selected Exhibitions (source: artnet.com):

2011

Hide in the City, Galerie Paris-Beijing, France (solo)

2011

Eli Klein Fine Art, New York, NY (solo)

2011

Fotográfica Biennale, Museo de Fotografía, Bogotá, Columbia

2010

The Right to Protest, Museum on the Seam, Jerusalem, Israel

2010

Passing China, Sanatorium, Istanbul, Turkey

2010

HomeLessHome, Museum on the Seam, Jerusalem, Israel

2010

Armed & Dangerous: Art of the Arsenal, Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA

2010

Animamix Biennial,” Shanghai MoCA, Shanghai, China; Today Art Museum, Beijing, China; Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China

2010

Hiding in Italy, Forma Centro Internazionale Di Fotografia, Milano, Italy (solo)

2010

Hiding in the City, Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Venezuela (solo)

2010

Sunshine International Art Museum, Songzhuang, Beijing, China (solo)

2010

On Fire, Eli Klein Fine Art, New York, NY (solo)

2010

Galerie Du Monde, Hong Kong, China (solo)

2010

Young Gallery, Brussels, Belgium (solo)

2010

Hiding in the City, Sylvia White Gallery (solo)

2009

Hiding in the City, Yu Gallery, Paris, France (solo)

2009

Hiding in the City, Galeria Tagomago, Barcelona, Spain (solo)

2009

Getting Accustomed to Being Impermanent, Vanguard Gallery, Shanghai, China (solo)

2009

Shore – Contemporary Academy Sculpture Exhibition, Moon River Art Museum, Beijing, China

2009

Blank – Making China, Zhongjian Art Museum, Beijing, China

2009

International Contemporary Art Invitational Exhibition, Seoul Art Museum, Seoul, Korea

2009

Erotic – Contemporary Art Invitational Exhibition, Dadi Rui City Exhibition Center, Jinan, China

2009

The Big World: Recent Art from China, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, USA

2009

Passing By China, Eli Klein Fine Art, New York, NY

2009

Camouflage, La Casa Encendida, Madrid, Spain

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