Lyn Liu: Dogville
June 10 through August 12, 2022
By JONATHAN GOODMAN, August 2022
Born in 1993 in Beijing, Lyn Liu received her BA from the School of Visual Arts and her MFA from Columbia University. She currently lives and works in New York City. “Dogville,” Liu’s first show with the gallery, is composed of dark, allegorical paintings whose meaning is not easily retrieved (we remember that Dogville is an American movie from 2003, devoted to the exploration of malice in our culture). The views in the paintings are often partial, their fragmentation indicating metaphysical difficulties that tend toward the dark. Although Liu is an artist from China, she has embraced a Western realism whose troubling implications suggest that people have not yet learned how to escape the difficulties of everyday life. Liu’s darkness of palette mirrors her theme, which presents puzzles resistant to being solved. We don’t know how to complete the partial information the paintings present, but recognize the darkness, literally and metaphorically, that has taken over her tableaux.
Burden (2022) is simple enough on first glance: a set of three pieces of tableware—a plate, on top of which rests a shallow dish. Resting on the second piece of chinaware is a bowl. The color of all three pieces is a muted gray. The objects occur within a very dark frame, which adds to the mystery facing us. Why would the artist give so simple a subject the resonant title Burden? It is difficult to say, but so suggestive a name, along with the enigmatic nature of the dishes, whose purpose is beyond us, feels enigmatic, even dark—this despite the simple nature of the image. Big-Hand Smokers (2022) depicts two smokers, a few feet apart in a large, dark empty space. Both of the smokers are women; the person on the left, wearing a dark overcoat, faces away from us; we see only a small part of the right side of her face. It looks like the woman on the right is intent on keeping her cigarette going; she wears a look of concentration, cupping her hands around the smoke. This person also, strangely, wears a pierrot-like costume. Both figures have abnormally large hands. Again this Allegorical meaning is suggested but is impossible to specify.
Traverser (2022) presents three persons of Asian background, each standing against a square column rising from a platform that might be a train station. They stand in darkness. It is hard to tell whether the figures are men or women; they wear white shirts and light blue pants and stare blankly into space. In front of the platform, a person in dark orange clothing rides a bicycle toward the left. Darkness takes over the foreground and the spaces in between the columns. Is the painting an extended metaphor exampling a journey? The three figures are waiting for something, but we don’t know what.The person on the bicycle is supposedly traveling with a goal in mind. But we cannot determine the destination. Liu makes indeterminacy a major part of her point of view. It is up to the viewer to decide the meaning of the work, whose self-sufficiency is both an attraction and a challenge.
Liu’s paintings belong to a new internationalism, in which personal background and geography are eschewed in favor of a style we cannot specify by culture or geography. The internationalism is an urban phenomenon, occurring in cities crowded with artists coming from far away. Cultural identity is reserved for transparently political art. But Liu is doing something different; her paintings pose questions that offer little guidance. It is likely this is deliberate, stemming from the artist’s decision to imply rather than assert. The brooding atmosphere, coupled with images that don’t make sense, might be called surreal. Yet this is not an art driven only by paradoz. Instead, it seems to rise from the unconscious, suggesting a feeling that comes close to dread. The puzzles we come across in Liu’s art are meant to defy reason, portraying a felt, but not fully understood, world. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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