Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Andrew James Gallery

I had the opportunity this week to visit the Andrew James Gallery on Maoming Lu.  The gallery is tucked away on the first floor of a somewhat run down white western-style house, and with only about 300 square meters of gallery space, it is easy to take in and enjoy the work in a controlled, methodically curated space.

Because Andrew James is such a small space, the gallery rotates shows monthly.  The gallery assistant explained that typically the gallery shows mostly oil paintings, but this month was a special exhibition of photography by Liu Ren, a young artist living in Beijing.  Born in 1980, she recently graduated with an MA in photo digital media from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

I immediately recognized one work of hers in the Andrew James Gallery, as I had seen another print of it in the 798 Art District in Beijing.  This work, entitled Sleepwalker - Temple of Heaven is part of a 2007 series in which Liu juxtaposes images of China into surreal, dream-like settings with found objects.  The presence of a rainbow seems to be a theme in many of her works, and the works generally take on a flat, two-dimensional quality with her treatment of light.

According to Liu's artist statement, dreams are the main theme to her works, and she looks to fuse childhood memories with "elements of modern China."  Liu visually alludes to her childhood in the coastal town of Qinhuangdao through motifs of water, clouds, and tide. 

Essayist Zhang Zhaohui describes the power of Liu's new media art in the context of a rapidly modernizing China: "[Liu shows] the hitherto unseen mutation of society and its contradictions and intense tensions, which make for an exceptional ground for their artistic expression."  
To me, the power of Liu's art lies in her embrace of visual contradiction, or the propagation of surreal, dream imagery.  Obviously, art related to autobiographical reflection or dreams is not a new motif to western art, but in a time when there is a pluralist influence on China and its artistic aesthetics, Liu's art really seems to capture a certain nostalgia while at once feeling distinctly contemporary.  She is a master new media artist: it is clear from her works that she is highly skilled with creating her work on the computer, and the quality of her prints (though I cannot say I am necessarily an expert) seemed high.  

Overall, the Andrew Jones Gallery, though certainly too small to spend a real significant amount of time in, really was a nice find.

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