Missing, presumed art: the work of Liu Bolin

Liu Bolin, Hiding in the City - Panda, 2012

 Liu Bolin, Hiding in the City – Panda, 2012

Other than knowing that they’re very rare and eat bamboo, I know very little about pandas. But the continued survival of the panda triplets born in China in late July gives me an excuse for a long overdue post about the work of Liu Bolin, the art world’s invisible man. Liu somehow manages to paint himself into the landscape allowing himself to disappear into the city. The resulting photographs are intriguing not least for the tension between the challenge of finding the artist – not always easy – and thinking about the significance of the scene and why Liu has chosen to hide himself within it.

Liu Bolin Hiding in the City - Tiannanman Square

 Hiding in the City – Tiananmen, 2006

Many of Liu’s images talk about his native China though the cleverness of his strategy for making art allows him the freedom to occupy difficult territory without the result challenging the political status quo in an overt manner though allowing his face to replace Mao’s at the entrance of Tiananmen Square is not without risk.

Liu Bolin, Hiding in the City No 18 - Laid Off, 2006

Hiding in the City No 18 – Laid Off, 2006

Unusually, in Laid Off Liu works with others to create a ghostly gathering of laid off workers. In this image the figures are easier to spot; the game is replaced by the poignancy of the situation the (almost) disappeared find themselves in. It’s impossible to look at this image without thinking about the fate of the workers it depicts. What is to become of them? A lot of what we buy comes from China, we know that and know that for many there working conditions are terrible. Laid Off offers a reminder of a system that exploits workers and casts them aside without ceremony; that the unemployed are overlooked is not revelatory but it is something we shouldn’t forget.

Liu Bolin red crowd


Liu Bolin: A Colorful World is at Klein Sun Gallery, 525 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011 from 11 September to 1 November 2014. Shame I’m the other side of the Atlantic.


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