Liu Xiaodong: “The Process of Painting” To Open At Kunsthaus Graz On June 5th
Just as Hong Kong hosts ART HK 12 and the Christie’s spring auctions in rapid succession, on the other side of the globe another essential component to the art world — an artist — works to produce two new paintings. In the small town of Eisenerz, Austria, blue-chip Chinese contemporary artist Liu Xiaodong, known for his on-site paintings that objectively document an often-decaying social milieu, paints two large canvases for his new project, “The Process of Painting,” in conjunction with the esteemed Kunsthaus Graz museum.
Art-hungry buyers browse the endless white walls at this year’s ART HK, of which the MCH Group (creators of Art Basel Switzerland and Miami) purchased a majority share following the fair’s 2011 installment. Soon after, over the course of two days and one evening, buyers also had the chance to acquire one, or several of the 295 lots up for auction at Christie’s Asian contemporary sale. This season, Christie’s three sales of Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Asian Art pulled in a grand total of HK$629.5 million (US$81.1 million), with works by Shang Yang and Lin Fengmian selling for over five times their pre-sale estimates. Yet the bustle of fairs and auctions can leave visitors and buyers in a mindset far from where the work itself, its process and its ideology, stemmed.
It is quite rare for an individual to see a work of art in any other state besides completion, once it’s surrounded by a frame and sensors — if exhibited at a museum — or accompanied by a heavy price tag at a gallery. But when it comes to Liu Xiaodong, watching the realist painter at work is mesmerizing to say the least. Watching excess paint drip on an unfinished canvas and layers of abstract color gradually form a clear image is intriguing; Quite literally, the addition of one or two brushstrokes can decipher a subject. This current project, exhibition and documentary film, which is being produced in Austria alongside the paintings, will allow for an inside look at Liu’s painting process.
This historic mining town, with settlements dating back 3,000 years, once had a population 18,000 residents but has since dwindled to a mere 4,800. Once producing some of the best iron used in both Europe and the US throughout and after WWII, Eisenerz was a bustling town that slowly lost its pulse due to the rise of modern machinery, which made the local labor force redundant. In addition to the town’s historical significance, upon seeing an abandoned swimming pool taken over by 30 years of foliage, once a retreat for mine workers and their families, Liu Xiaodong knew he had found the inspiration for one of his two paintings.
From visiting and selecting a site, to erecting his painting sheds and ensuring the timely arrival of canvases and paints and printing his reference photographs, much goes into a Liu Xiaodong painting before the first stroke is laid. Yet once the brushes have been dipped in a mixture of paint, linseed oil and turpentine, the manner in which Liu develops his canvas is truly mystical. His mastery of color enables him to slowly develop the scene’s subjects in the whimsical, somewhat impressionistic style for which he is so well known.
Liu Xiaodong’s exhibition, “The Process of Painting,” or “Prozess Malen,” opens at Kunsthaus Graz on June 5th. The show will be open to the public from June 6-September 2, 2012. For more information on exploring the museum and Liu’s painting process, please visit www.museum-joanneum.at.
Zandie Brockett is a Beijing-based curator, consultant and photographer from Los Angeles. Brockett is now working on several projects in Beijing in addition to her photography, such as the development and production of HONG轰, a self-sustaining platform that provides Beijing-based emerging artists a way to support the production, exhibition and sale of their artwork.