In Plain Sight: Liu Bolin’s Consumer Commentary
For an artist who made his name by making himself disappear amid supermarkets, tourist attractions, and icons of art in his “Hiding in the City” series, Liu Bolin’s latest exhibition, “A Colorful World,” at New York’s Klein Sun Gallery, does anything but blend in.
The show is filled with the types of brightly colored branding that is ubiquitous on everything from junk food wrappers to magazine covers. Labels—usually so uniform and crisply printed—are rendered in awkward acrylic paint on aluminum sculptures. The artist’s hand is clearly evident, turning the familiar into something childlike and even unsettling. Collaged together, the calculated marketing of these unhealthy items becomes apparent through their similarities. These sculptures take two forms: colossal fists and life-sized sculptures of the artist. While his technique is similar the impact of each could not be more different.
The fists, which look to be punching the gallery floor, offer images of protest (or, conversely, oppression). In the other sculptures, Bolin poses with his arms up as though going through an airport-security search. Here his figure is vulnerable, exposed, and freely turning himself over to authority.
In his sculptures, paintings, and photographs (themselves a combination of photography, painting, and performance) the artist makes a cheeky yet harsh commentary on consumer culture along with the unbridled development of his native China. Globalization is apparent—after all, the logo on Lay’s potato chip packages are the same familiar yellow and red around the world despite the language they’re printed in. But Bolin’s statement goes beyond “big business is bad.” Finding inspiration in the Taoist idea of the “unity of man and nature,” he confronts the viewer with the ways we poison ourselves from processed foods with no nutritional value to the obsessive quest for money and fame. “Like food feed[s] man’s body, these dazzling headlines or made-up events are feed for thoughts,” Bolin has said of the magazines that appear in many of his works. “They enter then into the realm of collective memory. In truth we consume ourselves. ”
In hiding himself amid the very things mankind has created to placate one another, Bolin forces us to stop being complacent and take a look back at ourselves.