Li Songsong’s (b. 1973, Beijing) paintings animate the fragmentary nature of images and memory, paying particular attention to the people, events, and themes of modern and contemporary Chinese history. Although his compositions draw on found imagery—with a range of sources including restaurant advertisements, historical photographs, and movie stills, among others—Li freely reinterprets, alters, or omits visual information to provoke histories and memories. The resulting works eschew narratives, presenting pieces and traces of something rather than a totalizing record of existing information.
Li has been the focus of many publications and international exhibitions, including Li Songsong at the Museo d’Arte Modema di Bologna, Italy (2015), which traveled to Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany (2016) and Non-Revision at the Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China (2018).
Li Songsong: Beihai
2016.12.10 – 2017.02.11
Pace Beijing is pleased to present Beihai, the sixth solo exhibition of Li Songsong at Pace, opening to public from 4 to 6pm with artist reception on December 10, 2016 through February 11, 2017. Featuring his latest works and important works in last three years, the exhibition marks his return to Beijing after four years.
As one representative artist of Chinese contemporary painting, Li Songsong has won widespread attention and reputation for his unique and distinctive style, technique of brushstroke and painting process. In 2015, MAMbo (Museod’ArteModerna di Bologna, Italy) and the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Baden-Baden (Germany) held tour exhibitions for him, which presented viewers with research on the artist’s creative work and concept since 2001, focused on the anti-literary narrative threads and the profound implications behind the explosive visual impressions in Li’s works.
Most of Li’s paintings source from existing images, and the artist deconstruct, or even destroy them applied with thick oil paint. The deliberate challenge to interpretation of each image strips the source from its original context and intention, thereby produces a brand-new and open entrance for visual readings. The original images chosen by the artist often contain practical intentions in non-aesthetic level. Whether these sources are press or historical photos for disseminating ideologies, or referential illustrations for educational use, once chosen by Li Songsong, the original intentions were rewritten, and the primary and subordinate visual elements will be equally empowered. The narrative or instructional intentions originally contained in the source images are materially reconstructed, and make the viewers lost in the extraordinarily thick and layered pigments.
Obviously, the habitual experience of visual reading will be disturbed by the destroyed images, if the viewers only consider Li’s work as a transformation from image to painting. However, if the viewers can somehow free themselves from the desire of interpretation which is so firmly planted in their rational thoughts, instead of relying on their intuitive physical instincts, then they might be able to discover clues within the rich, ever-changing indicatory worlds flowing atop the contents of each work. In Li’s work, thick and strongly present oil paints record the sensation of painting itself. The tactile feedback between the artist’s painting process and the work itself are directly and concretely presented in sculpture-like layers of paint. In his latest works, the artist put the paintbrush on the arrow and shoot the arrow out on aluminum panels or wooden boards from a distance, recording the rhythm and sense of force of continuous impact through astonishingly curved, uneven surfaces and punctured openings. In ancient times, archery was viewed as a form of training for one’s disposition and morality. By focusing on the body, one could observe and reflect on one’s spirit. Unlike China’s ancient archery ceremonies, which pursued perfection in order, Li’s archery faces the chance and loss of control in the concrete world, seeking instant dynamic order in the deconstruction. The complete experience of the dual breakthrough of body and spirit in each painting is directly embodied in each work’s ultimate visual presentation by way of the lengthening and ritualistic repetition in the process of an action.
This rich, unique world of painting was previously extremely presented in The One, the large-scale installation exhibited in Li’s solo show at Pace Beijing in 2012. The deliberate absence of concrete original images confounded viewers who attempted to decode its visual puzzles through rational means. While in Beihai, the most recent solo exhibition four years later, it seems the decipherable images come back again, yet has done nothing to diminish the artist’s keen interest in toying with “Interpretation First” viewers: multiple groups of paintings originating from the same image sources transform second interpretations of historical images into regulated games of form. If considering a single work of art as the independent entrance into the artist’s world, the delightfully exploratory exhibition venue created by multiple works is thus the grounds for a visual game that both the artist and the viewers participate in. With the rules of the artist’s “game” in place, any clichéd standard of interpretation is in danger of continuous failure. However, by relying on one’s sensibility and intuition, one can ultimately discover the ephemeral, hidden value located beyond the “meaning” of art.
Li Songsong was born in Beijing in 1973. He graduated from the Subsidiary School of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1992 and received a B.F.A in oil painting from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1996. The artist has been included in numerous international exhibitions at institutions including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, US; MoMA PS1, New York, US; Ullens Centerfor Contemporary Art, Beijing, China; The UC Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, US; The Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland; and the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany. His works are featured in numerous public collections including The Goetz Collection, Munich, Germany; Rubell Family Collection, Miami, US; etc. He lives and works in Beijing, China.
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