Li Qing
Biography
Work Gallery
BMCA Exhibition
Essays
Publications

Li Qing

LI QING

Born in 1981, Huzhou, China

Currently lives and works in Huzhou and Shanghai, China

Education

2007Graduate from the Oil Painting Department of China Academy of Art, conferred master’s degree

 

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2015

“Li Qing: Cathedral”, Hive Center for Contemporary Art, China, Chaoyang

2009

“Ghosting: Li Qing’s Solo Exhibition”, Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art, China, Shanghai

“Li Qing: Curtain”, Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong, Hong Kong

2008

“LI QING COLLISION IN THE AIR”, DF2 Gallery, USA, West Hollywood

2006

“Finding Together”, F2 Gallery, Beijing, China

 

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2014

“Conscious: Twelve Views on Painting”, Tang Contemporary Art, Beijing, China

“The Road of Life”, 01100001 Space, Beijing, China

2013

“Life Drawing” Project, Platform China Contemporary Art Institute, Beijing, China

“Monologue”, Tang Contemporary, Bangkok, Thailand

“Jungle II—A Thriving Morphology: Theory Of Relativity”, Platform China Contemporary Art Institute, Beijing, China

2014

“Presenting Recital Louder Than Paint”, Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai, China

“Labor and Time”, Chambers Fine Art, Beijing, China

2012

“Looking Awry, Iberia Center for Contemporary Art, Chaoyang, China

2011

“19 Solo Shows About Painting”, Platform China, Beijing, China

“Almost Tangible”, Arario Beijing, Beijing, China

“Fly Through the Troposphere-Memo of the New Generation Painting”, Iberia Center for Contemporary Art, Chaoyang, China

“Surplus Good lookingness: Re-Interpretation of the Daily Aesthetic Experience”, Tang Contemporary Art, Beijing, China

2010

“Asian Landmark: Toyota Art Project”, Iberia Center for Contemporary Art, Chaoyang, China

“The Personal Dimension: The Four Young Chinese Artists Group Exhibition”, Arario Chelsea, Chelsea, USA

2009

“Generation Hangzhou 2.0”, F2 Gallery, Beijing, China

2008

“Multiple Realities”, F2 Gallery, China, Beijing

2007

“Time Difference-New Art from China and USA”, Initial Access, Wolverhampton, UK

“The Great Yangtze River Bridge”, White Canvas Gallery, Nanjing, China

“The First Today"s Documents”, Today Art Museum, Beijing, China

“Beyond Image-Chinese New Painting”, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China

2006

“Conversation 10+10”, Zendai Museumof Modern Art, Shanghai, China

“Beyond Dimension-Chinese New Painting”, Square Gallery of Contemporary Art, Nanjing, China

“Potential Dialogue-The Party of Sino-Austria young artists”, RCM Museum, Nanjing, China

“Exhibition of Zhejiang young painters & awarded Academy Prize”, Zhejiang exhibition center, Hangzhou, China

The Decameron - BMCA Documenting Art
Li Qing by Michele D’Aurizio

Li Qing

by Michele D’Aurizio

To gaze at a painting from Li Qing’s “Neighbor’s Window” series means to peep at an urban panorama from within a rural interior. The oil painting rests on the glass panels of a wooden window frame. The discarded frame, sourced from the Chinese countryside, discords with the painting’s depiction of an early 20th-century Shanghanese building. If this painting were to convey a simple message, it would be that of the fantasy of abandoning the receding agricultural countryside and embracing a prosperous urban contemporaneity. Indeed, this is a predominant narrative in present-day China: according to The Economist, approximately 250 million rural migrants have been flowing into cities since the turn of the century. Mainly recruited for construction projects, these migrants are building China’s modern metropolises. But for many, the chance of becoming full citizens of urban centers is limited by the impossibility to obtain a hokou, a household registration that affords one full access to the city’s social services. A lack of hokou means keeping one foot in the countryside — that is, the unavoidable return to the native place where one is enlisted. The materiality of Li Qing’s paintings seems to touch upon this paradox: indeed, China’s rural flight doesn’t always diagrammatically conclude in the metropolis, but rather bounces lives in between two poles. Urban modernity, as exemplified not by aerial skyscrapers but the more bodily palazzos, remains for many an ungraspable reality, like President Xi Jinping’s alleged “Chinese Dream” — it is ‘in the vicinity’, to mention the title of the artist’s first presentation of the series, but still a detached ‘outside’.

The iconography of “Neighbor’s Window” translates an ongoing cultural debate concerning tradition and China’s achievement of modernity through ‘Westernization’ into a dialectic of insides and outsides. The subject of the series is a diversified collection of buildings in Shanghai and Chinese cities that share a similar colonial past. Among those in Shanghai, a few of them stand on the Bund, the iconic western waterfront of the Huangpu River: they are hotels, flagship stores, headquarters of international corporations, banks, and newspaper offices — in any case, complex conjugations of the many architectural ‘manners’ that originated in Art Deco. Their referentiality points to modern Shanghai’s quintessential permeability of international aesthetic styles. Other buildings depicted in the series show the appropriation of codes of Stalinist architecture, outcomes of the political affiliation between the Communist Russian and Chinese governments. Paintings such as Neighbour's Window: Casino (2014), depicting the Casino Lisboa in Macao, and Neighbour’s Window: Moscow Style (2013) or Neighbour's Window: St. Petersburg Style (2013), both displaying the Shanghai Exhibition Center, formerly the Sino-Soviet Friendship Building, evidently present the series as an exploration of 20th-century foreign architecture in China. However, if Casino recounts the period in which the openness of colonial cities was dictated by a truly cosmopolitan ethos — and indeed the appropriating gestures were genuine, diversified, and countless —, Moscow Style and St. Petersburg Style evidence the later embracing of a foreign architectural style that was ideologically aligned with the political power.

The Sino-Soviet dialogue constitutes a major preoccupation in Li Qing’s series “Neighbor’s Window”, manifested in the recurrence of the Shanghai Exhibition Center among the paintings’ subjects. A colossal edifice, the Exhibition Center was completed in 1955, in order to commemorate the alliance between China and the Soviet Union. Moreover, the Chinese Communist leaders conceived the building as an homage to their Russian counterparts and hosted within it a didactic exhibition of the Soviet economic, technological and cultural accomplishments in the years that followed the October Revolution. The building appears also in a singular painting from the series, Manuscript on Window (2013). Like in the other pieces, in Manuscript on Window the artist rested a panting on a wooden window frame. However, contrary to Moscow Style and St. Petersburg Style, which feature close-ups of the building’s openings, here the painting frames a narrow perspective of the building’s side while at the same time disclosing design elements that uncover the Neoclassical flavor of Stalinist architecture. A truthful spatial distance between the interior point of view and the exterior subject — contrastingly, in Moscow Style and St. Petersburg Style the proximity will be gradually magnified in order to emphasize the optical illusion — suggests that the view is realistic, the ‘genuine’ perception of a building ‘in the vicinity’. That the painting is the visualization of not just the coexistence of two entities — an anonymous Shanghai interior and the external Sino-Soviet Friendship Building — in the same urban fabric, but of their mutual, twinkly gazing, is further affirmed by the artist’s transcription of Chinese translations of Russian intellectual Osip Mandelstam on the window frame. Li Qing chose Mandelstam’s odes to his native town, St. Petersburg, which he replaced with Shanghai, his own. This gesture amplified the semantic component of the painting — as if to say that the artist respectfully acknowledged the Sino-Soviet ‘friendship’. However, like in O. Henry’s short story “The Last Leaf”, which Li Qing frequently mentions among his references, in which the view outside a dying woman’s window of a transitioning autumn landscape is replaced by the identical image frozen in a painting, in Manuscript on Window, the artist replaces concrete perception with a mythopoetic account of history.

Manuscript on Window retraces the formula of a typical literati painting: it embeds in it a handwritten poem, and thus a calligraphic exercise, within a landscape painting. In addition to this tradition, one might identify as well references to realism in Li Qing’s painting language, as the buildings are meticulously studied and reproduced; and also to history painting, to the extent that the buildings boast a sociopolitical function. But how might one account for the window, the very support of the painting, which introduces the foundational element — the grid — of a distinct, indeed opposing language, i.e. geometric abstraction? The painting thus turns into a commentary on the tension between the anachoresis of literati painting and the aesthetic autarchy of social realism, in which geometric abstraction, or better, Western abstraction, is offered as the most efficacious form of reconciliation. Despite the layers of concrete references, the painting remains true to the history of painting: it is literally a window, delivering a scene beyond its frame, factually and allegorically. It ‘chews the fat’ of tradition by enacting a semiological scan of the codes available to the painter at the moment of its making. At the same time, it raises the question of the conflicted identity of Chinese art within international art discourses.

This approach is more straightforward in later iterations of Li Qing’s paintings in window frames, for example, the series in which the painted images are taken from advertisements of Chinese artists’ exhibitions abroad. The paintings are always exhibited along with the actual advertisements, roughly cropped and placed in cheap frames, and, as in the case of the environmental installation Blow-Up (2014), displayed in a reconstructed public toilet. Here the artist assembles a decadent celebration of the international successes of his colleagues, exacerbated by the rank environment. The toilet echoes the logic of superimposition of historical layers that can be traced in the paintings, as it blatantly shows many renovations: a patchwork of tile surfaces covers the walls and the floor; two unpaired sinks are installed one next to the other; even the urinals seem to belong to different epochs… It recalls the recent past of Chinese history — its original template is sourced in Communist-era developments —, however one that cannot be left behind once and for all, but rather forcibly ‘dragged’ through the present. Equally, Chinese art seems to resist a canonical process of ‘modernization’, i.e. the questioning of identity politics embroiled in aesthetic tradition. Indeed Chinese art is typically invoked in the global system only by virtue of its ‘Chineseness’. It can only be ‘imported’ by foreign players, as the advertisements displayed in Blow-Up suggest by promoting artists included in politically-correct and ‘representative’ gallery roasters. In this scenario, the eagerness for a prolific dialogue in the vein of the Sino-Soviet friendship seems anachronistic.

In an extremely self-referential art world and a market on its way to saturation, as is the case of China, a discussion around cultural openness seems rather urgent. In this sense, the recurrence in contemporary Chinese art of the figure of the window, and of  ‘openings’ of buildings in general, may suggest how this question is currently being played out. From Ai Weiwei’s Template (2007) — a gigantic structure made of wooden doors and windows from demolished Ming and Qing Dynasty houses — to Song Dong’s Doing Nothing (2013 – on going) — sculptural assemblages of old, discarded windows — the window is indeed a recurring token. But its reappearance seems to pertain exclusively to critiques of the ‘savage’ transformation of Chinese urban landscape. In a sense, it functions as a reminder of a cultural heritage in danger… An additional example can be found in Liu Chuang’s Segmented Landscape (2014), in which a series of metal window grilles, each boasting a unique pattern, is dramatically lit by spotlights; a gentle artificial breeze causes white curtains installed behind the grilles to flutter, on which  projections of the grilles’ patterns seem to sway. Liu Chuang’s windows solicit the idea of security, and thus private property, which becomes undermined by a to and fro scene of everyday life. It is an image that recalls the discrete observations of buildings ‘in the vicinity’ in Li Qing’s “Neighbor’s Window” paintings: these paintings show Chinese cities that haven’t yet thrown their past away, that continue to activate a gradual, positive absorption of the past in the present. The only artist who is capable of documenting this process is the one able to place himself both inside and outside of history, both inside and outside of China.

Michele D’Aurizio is Flash Art Managing Editor.

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On the Painting of Li Qing-The Politics of Form
You stare at a painting, immersing yourself in it, being swallowed by its totality, pacing, browsing and ruminating on its details, being moved by it, compelled by it, astonished by it, or, conversely, you deplore it, look down on it, laugh at it. This is the normal situation of viewing a painting. But this is no longer Li Qing’s goal. He is

by Wang Min’an

You stare at a painting, immersing yourself in it, being swallowed by its totality, pacing, browsing and ruminating on its details, being moved by it, compelled by it, astonished by it, or, conversely, you deplore it, look down on it, laugh at it. This is the normal situation of viewing a painting. But this is no longer Li Qing’s goal. He is attempting to alter the way paintings are seen. He paints two paintings and places them together. The two paintings are so similar they seem as if they are the same painting. But there are minute differences between them. Li Qing sends the viewer to seek out these differences, like a classic children’s game of spot-the-difference. If that is the case, how are we to view this painting, or these two paintings?

 

We could posit a first viewing method, wherein people no longer take in the painting as a whole but instead focus their efforts on the details, just as the artist expects, seeking out the differences in the details of the two paintings. Each discovery of a difference fulfills the goal of viewing, like the joy a child feels with each successful discovery. Such viewing becomes an act of searching, of discovery, comparison and probing. It demands sensitivity towards parts and details. This turns painting into a trap for the viewing gaze. This comparison of details becomes the focus of viewing, and comes to control the gaze. Meanwhile, the gaze constantly shifts between the two paintings, and fails to find focus. The painting cancels out the center and thus cancels out the set viewing position posited by the viewer. It causes the gaze to drift, flicker, roam and float. It overlooks the whole, and of course risks forgetting the “meaning” of the artwork. The painting thus gains its sense of presence through the uniqueness of the details. In other words, the significance of the painting lies in the way it differs from the details of its neighbor. No single painting can find autonomy within its own field, only finding a sense of existence through other paintings. The paintings are references for each other, linked together through the shifting of the gaze between the two. At this point, the viewer is no longer seeking connections between the painting and the world, but instead seeking connections between one painting and another. The significance of one painting is that it is not the other painting, and one painting exists because of its differences with another. They define themselves by difference, by the series of minute differences from one painting to the next, rather than through their representation of the world, or their place in a particular artist’s body of creations. That is to say, the paintings here discard the world and discard the artist. They are immersed in their own interiority, immersed in their differences from one another.

 

But we all know that many people will not follow the artist’s prompting (is the artist really prompting us to seek out the differences, to spot the differences?). They will give up on the intention of spotting the differences (those who spot the differences may be layman viewers or children), or the goal of their viewing will not be to spot the differences. They will want to look at the paintings themselves. They will restore the paintings to works of art, and will evaluate the two paintings based on artistic standards (rather than scientific examination). These two paintings will be seen as a single artistic whole, as a diptych or a triptych. They are juxtaposed, differences and all (people know there are differences, but they will not seek them out). This is not the place for games of spot the difference, but the place for works of art. The paintings will still exist as artworks.

 

If that is the case, if we are no longer to pursue the minute differences between the paintings, then how are we to see this artwork? First, there is no hierarchy between the two paintings, nor do they form a temporal or thematic series. Here, they are a game of resonance. If people seek similarities instead of differences, then they will see two giant similarities. This will lead them to say that one painting is the reality of the other, that one painting is an imitation of the other, but in fact, each imitates the other, while serving as the basis of the other. They are mutual references. In this way, they are still limited to connections within painting, not connections in difference but connections in studies. Difference is nothing more than an oversight in the copying process, a small error, one that is unavoidable in copying; similarity is the true goal of the two paintings. In this way, the two paintings are each other’s sources. We could also say that here, the artist’s world, the artist’s creative meaning, is again cast to the back of the mind.

 

The problem, however, is that we can still see that these two paintings appear to be in imitation of the outside world, both have realist traits. This gives us the possibility for a third kind of interpretation—that these two paintings are both real imitations and representations. If that is the case, then which painting—as they do have obvious differences—is the true imitation? That is to say, are these two paintings competing for the power to interpret what is “real”? Or, perhaps, has one truth been scrambled by the differences between the two paintings? Have the differences between the two paintings made it so that there is no one truth? In the differences between the two paintings, the “truth” falls into a crisis. But we can further our discussion from another angle. We can affirm that one of the paintings is a true imitation of reality, the representational thing. The other painting is not an imitation of reality but an imitation of the other painting, or the imitation of an imitation, the representation of the representational thing, like Plato’s shadows of shadows. The painting that represents reality can infinitely approach reality, but the other painting, the imitation of that painting, gradually deviates from the truth. Here, the true world has not been discarded but has instead been further examined and probed by the question of how it is represented.

 

Next is Li Qing’s series of mutually destructive paintings. Here, Li Qing is no longer juxtaposing or separating paintings in order to present their differences. This time, he begins by painting two different paintings, and before the paint is dry, pressing them together before rapidly pulling them apart, thus creating two new paintings made by each picking up paint from the other. They have each intruded on the other, but as they intrude, they are also absorbed by the other. Each painting changes the other and is in turn changed. Two already completed paintings cover each other, and in doing so, mutually destroy each other, swallow each other. Each has distorted the other, and in doing so has gained a different picture. We see that these two paintings were originally different, but after they cover each other, they begin to converge, while the original image has been changed. This is another game between two paintings. One painting is painting another, or we could say that the two paintings are painting each other. But this is not a game of difference and repetitive painting. Instead, it is a game of unpredictable contention between two paintings. Here, one painting is the author of the other. Li Qing may be the original author of both (he painted them with no reservations, so that they emerge as complete paintings), but he is not their final author. When these two paintings cover and assault each other, they escape from him. They are also a refusal of Li Qing’s artworks, the simultaneous destruction of Li Qing’s dedicated painting efforts. This leads us to the question of whether or not the final artworks are indeed his.

 

This is paintings painting paintings. These two paintings are like two transcripts that are copied by each other, forming a highly connected intertext. They live off each other, yet neither can control the other and neither can be the absolute source. But one painting is always the result of the other. Here, painting is still limited to painting, and painting finds its orientation in relation to other paintings. The reason one painting ends up taking on its final appearance is because of the existence of another painting, because another painting engaged it in a game. The same goes for the other way around. Of course, people can see how these paintings looked before their encounter (Li Qing photographed them before sticking them together), and Li Qing consciously links the two original paintings, or more precisely, makes them correspond. Unlike the two similar paintings in Spot the Difference, the two paintings here emphasize connections between the figures in the paintings, or their corresponding nature. We can always find appropriate connections between the contents or the figures in the two paintings. This connectedness or correspondence is the reason they can be stuck together, assault each other or destroy each other, just as the excess similarity of the other paintings leads people to seek out their differences. They are stuck together because of their connectedness, the connections between the figures in the original paintings. Thus, this sticking together, this covering, is not just sticking together or covering as Li Qing sees it, but the sticking together or covering of two people, two contents.

 

In other words, Li Qing has brought thematic inquiry into the formal inquiry. The discussion of painting form has come to encompass the discussion of subject matter. He is even growing increasingly interested in this particular aspect. He seems no longer satisfied with inquiries into pure painting method. That is to say, he is no longer defining the paintings themselves just within their relationship to other paintings, but defining them by their connections to other artistic material. More importantly, in the relationships the paintings attain through various materials, Li Qing is attempting to also infuse concepts of history, society and even aesthetics. That is to say, these historical and social concepts are not directly expressed in the painting, but in the process of the painting and in the relationships arranged between the paintings and other materials. This is the work Li Qing has been pursuing recently. He has no intention of giving up on social intervention, but he does not want to carry out such intervention through traditional means but instead to insert the intervention into the creation of form. Perhaps the formal decision is now a political decision.

 

His cathedral series includes similar intentions. These artworks encompass all manner of complex games. He is carrying out all manner of experiments in how to render the paintings, not just in games between one painting and another, but in games between painting and painting history, painting and reality, painting and installation, painting and readymade, painting and all manner of materials. Here he is attempting to infinitely expand the concept of painting, integrating painting with any and all possible factors. Through such painting-installation methods, he is attempting to intervene in reality. He paints on old glass windows, on arcade machines, uses classic works, painting with mockery or reverence. The painting unfolds according to the object of its assembly, and vice versa: those materials also gain their significance through their assembly in the painting. Here, Li Qing is no longer concerned with formal games between one painting and another, but in probing how meaning emanates on its own from the assembly of painting and materials. Here, painting is dedicated to some critical concept, but this concept does not come from painting itself. Instead, it is the product of the marriage of various materials. People can find all manner of critical concepts within these works: the misuse of religion, secular mythology, capitalist exaggeration, the masks of globalization, the end of history, the poetry of death and all manner of realistic daydreams. All of these critical themes are married together, married in various forms, particularly in the marriage of painting and other materials, to find expression. If Li Qing’s earlier method was to connect or cover one painting with another to create a new painting in formal games, he is now using the method of marriage to produce critical concepts. If cross-referencing is a game of difference or repetition and covering is a game of assault and destruction, then marriage is a game of connection and criticism. If cross-referencing is a purely formal game, and covering is a game infused with criticism, then marriage is criticism infused with a game.

Translated by Jeff Crosby

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