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New York

Li Songsong

One of My Ancestors

Oct 25–Dec 21, 2019

Li Songsong's paintings point to China’s many transformations, but eschew narrative in order to emphasize the way images operate as nebulous fragments of a history that is open to interpretation.

Exhibition Details

Li Songsong
One of My Ancestors
Oct 25 – Dec 21, 2019


540 West 25th Street
Second Floor
New York

Pace Gallery is pleased to present the first solo exhibition in the US since 2011 of renowned Chinese artist Li Songsong. The exhibition features his most recent works—canvases whose thick layers of paint depict everyday scenes as well as historical imagery culled from found photographs. Li’s paintings point to China’s many transformations, but eschew narrative in order to emphasize the way images operate as nebulous fragments of a history that is open to interpretation. The exhibition will be on view on the 2nd floor of Pace’s new flagship building at 540 West 25th Street from October 25 to December 21, 2019, with an opening reception with the artist on October 24.

In the process of reinterpreting found imagery drawn from public sources such as everyday news items, Li adopts an impartial attitude. “I did not deliberately look for these images,” he explains, “It just happened. For example, a friend of mine went to an old book stall in Beijing to buy old magazines. I saw a good photo, and then I used it. I don’t seem to care about the content of the image itself. Of course, they are a starting point, but they will affect you more on a psychological level than in a narrative way.”

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Li Songsong, Owga (III), 2019, oil on canvas, 100 cm × 100 cm (39-3/8" × 39-3/8") © Li Songsong

Li is interested in the ways in which images can trigger memories and emotions—a psychological impact magnified by his technique. The use of impasto and the dense materiality of his brushstrokes elicit a potent haptic response, while his palette of cool shades of gray, green, and beige create an estrangement from his chosen subject matter, as seen in Little Brother (2017), South (2017), and Civil Rather than Military (2018). Through his signature use of compact blocks of color, Li deconstructs and reassembles images, pushing his art towards abstraction.

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Li Songsong, Bone to Ash, 2019, oil on canvas, 70-7/8" × 118-1/8" (180 cm × 300 cm) © Li Songsong

This exhibition also presents works that signal the artist’s exploration of new subject matter—images oriented toward individualized experience and private life rather than collective memory and the public sphere. Zorro (2019), for instance, depicts the artist’s pet dog, who recently passed away. The ashes of the animal’s cremated body are the focus of another piece, Bone to Ash (2019). Deviating from his usual strategy of finding inspiration in widely circulated photography, Li turns to a poignant personal event that, despite its specificity, addresses questions with universal resonance—death, love, and memory. A similar work, Owga (III) (2019), offers a close-up of the back of a human head. The impossibility of seeing the figure’s countenance creates a sense of unbridgeable distance and alienation—an impenetrability literalized by the work’s unyielding strata of paint.

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Li Songsong, Tempest, 2019, oil on aluminum panel, 122-1/16" × 149-5/8" (310 cm × 380 cm) © Li Songsong

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Li Songsong

Li Songsong is renowned for his thickly layered paintings that animate the fragmentary nature of images and memory, paying particular attention to the people, events, and themes of modern and contemporary Chinese history.

Learn More

New York — Li Songsong, One of My Ancestors, Oct 25–Dec 21, 2019