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Sunjung Kim’s Real DMZ Project Interrogates the North and South Korea Divide Ocula Conversation Sunjung Kim’s Real DMZ Project Interrogates the North and South Korea Divide

Ongoing since 2012, the Real DMZ Project interrogates the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea through annual, research-based exhibitions that bring together the works of Korean and international artists. Sunjung Kim, the independent curator behind the project, conceived the idea of exploring the DMZ while curating Japanese artist...

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Sydney Lowdown: Exhibitions to See Ocula Report Sydney Lowdown: Exhibitions to See 6 Sep 2019 : Elyse Goldfinch for Ocula

The fifth edition of Sydney Contemporary will take place once again at Carriageworks between 12 and 15 September 2019, with Spring 1883 bringing together a cohort of 27 galleries from across Australia and the region to inhabit rooms at the Establishment Hotel from 11 to 14 September 2019, uniquely presenting contemporary works propped up on...

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Mark Bradford’s Call for Unity at Shanghai’s Long Museum Ocula Insight | Video Mark Bradford’s Call for Unity at Shanghai’s Long Museum 16 August 2019

Mark Bradford walks through Mark Bradford: Los Angeles Mark Bradford: Los Angeles at the Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai (27 July–13 October 2019) is the artist's largest solo exhibition to date in China. In this video for Ocula, Bradford and Diana Nawi, curator of the show, walk through selected works that convey the artist's concerns with...

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Liu Xiaodong

b. 1963, China

Best known for his realistic and humanising paintings of everyday people in politically complex places, Beijing-based painter Liu Xiaodong (刘小东) is concerned with those left behind by modernisation and globalisation.

Born in 1963, Liu graduated from The Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing with a BFA in 1988 and an MFA in 1995, and is considered a representative of China's 'New Generation' of artists, along with his wife, the figurative painter Yu Hong. His realistic style is influenced by his training in Socialist Realism at CAFA, a government-prescribed movement that focused on the conditions of the workers and was closely associated with the values of the Chinese Communist Party. Rejecting the propagandistic connotations of the genre, Liu retained the disciplined, formalist teachings to explore the idiosyncrasies of contemporary life in China and beyond.

Liu's approach to contemporary art is something of a nomadic, anthropological one. Adopting the methodology of the 'plein-air' painters of yesteryear, Liu sets up his easel on location to depict his subjects in their own environments. Domestic spaces, restaurants, pool halls, industrial sites and fields make up a few of the settings for his loosely painted portraits. Liu has described his modest methodology in four steps: 'Take some scaffolding; cover it in canvas to create a 10-square-metre pavilion. Paint inside, and when finished, take it apart. This is my studio.'

Through this process, Liu goes to great lengths to record the type of ordinary people not historically represented in oil paintings. In conversation with Ocula Magazine in 2016, Liu said, 'I only go into other people's lives to experience them. ... I don't want to summarise; I don't want to make a political stance. I want to just faithfully reproduce other people's lives.' As an example of this effort of representation, his 2012 'Hotan Project' series depicted scenes from the jade mining region of Xinjiang Province, while other works have depicted populations displaced by the Three Gorges Dam in the Yangtze River, Israeli-Palestinian conflict zones, South African landscapes, tableaux from Tibet, Bangladeshi steel workers and the private lives of sex workers and farmers.

His often large-scale artworks are at once both realistic and inventive, with form being rendered through thick, impasto applications of oil paint. One of his most well-known paintings, Out of Beichuan (2010), depicts seven young women among a shambled Sichuan landscape that had been hit by a devastating earthquake two years prior. With a conscientious attention to their humanity, the women are rendered with careful, distinctive features, while the hills and piles of rubble behind them are painted with chunky, staccato strokes. Similarly, the double-portrait Xiaojun and Xiuling (2015) depicts two figures in pink, fleshy paint, while the impervious highway and sky behind them are rendered in dull greys, contrasting vibrant life with impartial infrastructure.

Branching out from traditional methods of painting, in 2016, Liu presented Weight of Insomnia at Chronus Art Center in Shanghai: a mechanised installation in which robotic arms rendered images fed from distant security cameras in blue paint in the gallery. These cameras were positioned near the Bund in Shanghai, the Apple Store in Beijing's Sanlitun area and a public plaza in the artist's hometown in Liaoning Province. Removing his own hand from the work, Liu explored technology's rendering of time. As he relayed to Ocula Magazine, he 'wanted to show people the painting process, which is full of surprises. It can even be considered a performing art. It's very humorous and lively.'

The project was not Liu's first experimentation with moving image; his practice has always had close ties to film. In 2006, renowned Chinese director Jia Zhangke shot the documentary Dong, which followed Liu as he painted male labourers near the Three Gorges Dam in Fengjie, China, and later, young women in Bangkok, Thailand. Lingering on the marginalised people in both locales, Jia's film functioned less as a portrait of the painter and more as a considerate portrayal of his disenfranchised subjects. Liu also starred in Wang Xiaoshuai's directorial debut The Days (1993), acted as art director for Zhang Yuan's Beijing Bastards (1993) and was the subject of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 2010 documentary Hometown Boy, which followed the artist as he returned to his rural hometown to paint his family and friends.

Liu currently lives and works in Beijing, where he teaches painting at CAFA.

Elliat Albrecht | Ocula | 2018
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Featured Artworks

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Squatting 蹲 by Liu Xiaodong contemporary artwork
Liu XiaodongSquatting 蹲, 2009 Lithograph/ Paper
57 x 76 cm
Eslite Gallery
Tied up 捆 by Liu Xiaodong contemporary artwork
Liu XiaodongTied up 捆, 2009 Lithograph/ Paper
57 x 76 cm
Eslite Gallery
Lying on Its Belly 趴 by Liu Xiaodong contemporary artwork
Liu XiaodongLying on Its Belly 趴, 2009 Lithograph/ Paper
57 x 76 cm
Eslite Gallery
Dead 死 by Liu Xiaodong contemporary artwork
Liu XiaodongDead 死, 2009 Lithograph/ Paper
57 x 76 cm
Eslite Gallery
Watching Over 守 by Liu Xiaodong contemporary artwork
Liu XiaodongWatching Over 守, 2009 Lithograph/ Paper
57 x 76 cm
Eslite Gallery
First Cut 第一刀 by Liu Xiaodong contemporary artwork
Liu XiaodongFirst Cut 第一刀, 2009 Lithograph/ Paper
57 x 76 cm
Eslite Gallery
Second Cut 第二刀 by Liu Xiaodong contemporary artwork
Liu XiaodongSecond Cut 第二刀, 2009 Lithograph/ Paper
57 x 76 cm
Eslite Gallery
Heading South to South Africa #48 向南飛 #48 by Liu Xiaodong contemporary artwork
Liu XiaodongHeading South to South Africa #48 向南飛 #48, 2015 Acrylic, Watercolour on Photo
22.2 x 32 cm
Eslite Gallery

Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Liu Xiaodong, Weight of Insomnia at Lisson Gallery, London
Closed
25 January–2 March 2019 Liu Xiaodong Weight of Insomnia Lisson Gallery, Bell Street, London
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Wandering in the Garden at Eslite Gallery, Taipei
Closed
6 January–14 February 2018 Group Exhibition Wandering in the Garden Eslite Gallery, Taipei

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

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Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu at Lisson Gallery, London Ocula Insight Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu at Lisson Gallery, London 23 August 2019

An afterimage is a false visual burned onto the eyes even after its source is no longer being viewed. Victor Wang, the curator of Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu (3 July–7 September 2019) at Lisson Gallery, London, borrows the term to describe one of the key accomplishments of contemporary art: the accommodation of work that is post-figurative, or 'after...

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Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui Ocula Conversation Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui

The exhibition Beyond Boundaries at Somerset House in London (12 March–2 April 2019) marked the historic contributions of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, on the occasion of their 100th and 150th anniversaries, respectively. Spread across several rooms of Somerset House's...

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EVA International: Ireland’s Biennial Talks About Power Ocula Report EVA International: Ireland’s Biennial Talks About Power 6 Jul 2018 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

If Koyo Kouoh's 37th EVA International took the Easter Rising of 1916 as its starting point, marking the beginning of a revolutionary period that culminated in the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, then Inti Guerrero's follow-up edition continues the trajectory.With no title, the 38th edition of EVA International (14 April–8 July...

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Liu Xiaodong Ocula Conversation Liu Xiaodong Artist, China

Chinese artist Liu Xiaodong takes figure painting out of the studio and into the fields, factories and family homes of regions rife with political turmoil, economic unease, and environmental degradation. Setting up easels on location to depict real people in places such as rural China, Thailand, Tibet and Israeli-Palestinian conflict zones, Liu...

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In Related Press

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WEIGHT OF INSOMNIA: LIU XIAODONG Related Press WEIGHT OF INSOMNIA: LIU XIAODONG Art Asia Pacific : 20 February 2019

In his 1914 neorealist manifesto, Charles Ginner rails against the 'academism' of 'weak or commercial painters,' who adopt the methods of creative artists and derive formulae from them, becoming 'Formula-Machines.' To circumvent such 'academism,' Ginner advocates for artists to anchor their works in their 'personal vision of nature and attitude...

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25 Oil Paintings: 1993-2007 Liu Xiaodong Related Press 25 Oil Paintings: 1993-2007 Liu Xiaodong ArtAsiaPacific : 6 June 2018

Can Contemporary Chinese art be revived as a tool for social critique? Returning to the traditional medium of painting, Liu Xiaodong, whose solo exhibition '25 Oil Paintings: 1993-2007' was up at Yallay Gallery in Hong Kong in March, makes a renewed case for this question, departing from the legacy of socialist realism that has occupied the medium...

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Liu Xiaodong Related Press Liu Xiaodong ArtReview : 6 June 2018

Just what is it that makes Liu Xiaodong's painting so different, so appealing? The fifty-year-old artist's work has been exhibited from Beijing (Hometown Boy at UCCA in 2011) to Graz (where The Process of Painting has just closed at Universalmuseum Joanneum); Parkett this month launched its 91st volume at Leo Koenig, New York, featuring editions by...

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Liu Xiaodong Related Press Liu Xiaodong https://frieze.com/article/liu-xiaodong-0 : 18 May 2017

Engaged with photography, film and painting for the past three decades, Liu Xiaodong has described his style as an 'open' one that explores thespaces between realism and abstraction. This vision is evident in theexhibition 'Chittagong', a series of paintings based on in situ researchof the everyday realities of the men working in...

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