Chinese History

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Liu Xiaodong: Evidence

by Alexandra_Munroe on November 3, 2010

Originally published in Liu Xiaodong: Hometown Boy. Reproduced by permission of the publisher.

Liu Xiaodong: Evidence
by Alexandra Munroe

Earlier this year, the New York Times art critic Roberta Smith wrote a lengthy article challenging the “appalling narrowness of vision” evident in the exclusively post-minimal art shows dominating New York museums. Her controversial article urged curators to think more independently and look at work outside the reigning fashion for conceptual art. As I read her article, I found myself agreeing with Smith’s critique of the tyranny of taste that dictates what’s in or out of the hallowed halls of western contemporary art museums. A great case in point is Liu Xiaodong. Putting the newspaper down, I imagined standing to defend his painting, his mind, and his historical importance to my colleagues in New York. This essay is that defense.

Smith’s article, titled “Post-Minimal to the Max,” is worth quoting at length:

The goal in organizing museum exhibitions, as in collecting, running a gallery and—to cite the most obvious example—being an artist, should be individuation and difference, finding a voice of your own. Instead we’re getting example after example of squeaky-clean, well-made, intellectually decorous takes on that unruly early ‘70s mix of Conceptual, Process, Performance, installation and language-based art that is most associated with the label Post-Minimalism… But regardless of what you think about these artists individually, their shows share a visual austerity and coolness of temperature that are dispiritingly one-note. After encountering so many bare walls and open spaces, after examining so many amalgams of photography, altered objects, seductive materials and Conceptual puzzles awaiting deciphering, I started to feel as if it were all part of a big-box chain featuring only one brand… You’d never know from looking at museums that figurative painting, running the gamut from realist to quasi-expressionist, is on the rise.[1]

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