L.A. Galerie Lothar Albrecht presents
Liu Ding "Samples from the Transition"
June 29 to July 22, 2006
You and your friends are cordially invited to the opening on Thrusday, June 29, from 7 p.m.
The artist will be present
Eager Paintings, Empathetic Products: Liu Ding's Critical Complicity
by David Spalding
For consumers, the use value of art-its essence-is a fetish, and the fetish-the social valuation which they mistake for the merit of works of art-becomes its only use value, the only quality they enjoy. Everything has value only in so far as it can be exchanged, not in so far as it is something in itself.
Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1947
Liu Ding is an archeologist of the present. The artist excavates everyday objects, embellishing and arranging them in ways that amplify the cultural desires they embody and foster. His evolving series of related installations, Samples from the Transition, confronts viewers with artifacts that point to the absurd contradictions produced by China's frenzied capitalism. [
] If, as Liu's projects suggest, the Chinese economy is characterized by a Vesuvian explosion, it has buried its residents in the ashen spectacle of consumer culture. Through his artworks, Liu Ding is not just offering evidence of this "transition." He is trying to dig us out.
] With his latest installment of the Samples series, Products (2005/6), Liu demonstrates the ambivalent space that art occupies in discussions of our commodity culture - fashioning a mobius strip of critique and complicity that refuses easy resolution.
Originally commissioned for the Second Guangzhou Triennial, Products invited a group of thirteen professional artists from the nearby city of Dafancun - China's famed "painting factory" village, where workers produce thousands of paintings daily, fueling a giant export business - to perform their assembly-line painting process during the opening of what is arguably China's most important international art exhibition. Working in an ancillary site temporarily annexed by the Guangdong Museum of Art, the painters were assembled on a pyramid of platforms during the exhibition's opening, where they moved from canvas to canvas as they added their contributions (one artists paints only a tree, another a stork, and so on) to a series of identical landscape paintings. The painters were paid their standard factory wage for their work. The resulting paintings remained on view for the duration of the exhibition, and have been presented in Frankfurt alongside a garish domestic interior well-suited for their display.
Site is central to Products' various entanglements. Integral to the work's staging in Guangzhou is the Guangdong's Museum of Art's location in the Pearl River Delta, or PRD: a cluster of southern Chinese cities, including Shenzhen and Guangzhou, that have experienced a surreal growth spurt since the 1970s, when the area began to mushroom into a network of congested urban sprawl that beckons with opportunity and repulses with an underbelly of decadence. As such, Guangzhou is a nadir (or zenith) of advanced capitalism, a perfect site for Liu's ongoing explorations.
Regardless of curatorial attempts to create a platform for ongoing exchange, the recent Guangzhou Triennial, like the Triennials and Biennials that continuously operate worldwide, is also another node in the art market, a site where the status and value of works is affirmed and heightened through their selection (presumably by a team of experts) and presentation within the exhibition context. In addition, the catalogue and related press coverage are just two of many related affirmations that can elevate the careers of participating artists. Through his staging of Products, Liu called in question the authority of the Triennial to confer merit to the artists, and the ability of art market assess a work's worth. After all, the quality and value of the artworks made in Dafancun is anything but arbitrary: paintings that accurately resemble their models are approved by quality control agents; those that do not are revised or destroyed. The value of the works is equally clear-cut, as one company, called Eager Art, explains to potential customers on their website, "The price of paintings is decided [by] whether they are easy or hard to paint."
Chosen by the Liu Ding for its banality, the source painting reproduced in Guangzhou and presented in Frankfurt - a fanciful, distant cousin to more traditional Chinese landscapes - is also a cipher. In Liu's installation, the painting is transformed into a series of inverted readymades, and while the artist is indebted to these earlier practices of commodity critique, he takes things much further. In Products, the paintings' status as a commodity is both laid bare and undone by Liu's insistence that the labor (indeed, the laborers) required for their production are visible. Further, his sensitivity to site ensures that even while the paintings are empty referents, they illuminate cultural and historical conditions in the locations where they are created and displayed.
] Products and the other works that comprise the Samples series are much more than material evidence of a culture in flux. As the projects begin to coalesce, they promise to compromise the very foundations that form the basis for their display and circulation. In doing so, Liu Ding's works are creating a complex web of dialogues, opening new possibilities for artists to simultaneously resist and participate in the culture they are helping to create.
Press Release as pdf-File 176