The ironic side of contemporary Chinese Art is currently divided between two 24th Street Galleries in West Chelsea. The artist Liao Yibai adores stainless steel, which he employs in the design and fabrication of his sculptures. Like Jeff Koons, he selects mundane and banal items from the everyday world of commerce – men’s wristwatches, women’s high heels, lipstick, and handbags – and projects them larger than life, giving them a sense of absurd, yet delectable seductiveness. In contrast to his former exhibition at Mike Weiss Gallery in 2009, the work in this exhibition is less personal and less directly political. Here Yibai focuses on the remnants of a world gone wrong with endless trinkets and arsenals of cold cash – bundles of stainless steel fake money, suggesting that we are living in an endgame in which the new world order depends on corruption in order to survive.
The notion of fakery is the essential theme in this seemingly gregarious show. Everything aims in the direction of a currency and towards a ritual of some mindless social exchange. Even so, one cannot help but understand the futility of these glittering factory-made objects that will quickly turn to detritus. Yet the simulationist point is also interesting. One may easily speak about these commercial fashion-built items as if they were real. In fact, there are not. Instead of being real, they are art. They do not really function. They operate on another level. We contemplate them in a different way and for different reasons. While they may constitute the scourge of humankind despite their cultural origins, these omnipresent global entities continue to function on a routine basis in our everyday affairs.
I am fairly certain that Yibai is not oblivious to the message that his work appears to be issuing forth. He has a persuasive intelligence and a heart, a way of seeking through the everyday morass of falsity and coming up with something to peruse – not as an economic rebound, but as an alien object, in fact, a readymade multiplied, much in the spirit of Duchamp, and certainly as Duchamp revealed later in his career upon agreeing to reproduce editions of eight of each of his earlier ready-mades. Despite the gargantuan scale in many of Yibai’s recent works, as in the so-called Rolls Phillipe wristwatch in the front gallery of the ATM Gallery, it may appear as the real thing, but in fact it is not. For New Yorkers, copies of expensive wristwatches may be bought on Canal Street for a tenth of their normal cost. However, the artist Yibai is coy and astute. He knows he will run into difficulty using actual brand names or logos on his sculpture; therefore, he plays with these names and logos in an ironic and humorous manner. For example, instead of China T-shirts, we are introduced to an absurd logo called Chime. Instead of Nike and Adidas, we get a logical synthesis called RIKEdas – not only the sneakers, but also the photographs of the high school team wearing these faked goods with fake logos. When Adidas and Nike are not in synthesis with one another, we get Adadis instead of Adidas.
Keeping in mind that Yibai is Chinese and not Western, these names are simply meant for play – just as the products are the necessary supplement for team sports. Given the artist’s outsider point of view, there may be little distinction between American Presidents, which of course is questionable, but expected, due to the wholesale buy-out of American news corporations.
While some Americans may see President Barack Obama as the best asset for continuing democracy, Yibai presents a more cynical point of view whereby we are given a profile of the President speaking into microphones and embossed on the face of a large-scale stainless steel seven-dollar bill.
What may further astound viewers are the metaphorical, more indigenous aspects of objects seen in his culture. For example, a work titled Rich Bird on the Stone (2010) – a fantastical crow atop a leaning scholar’s tone – suggests that fakery has not only entered into everyday life and business, but it has distorted the spiritual values that in past centuries played an intrinsic part of life. If we are to take Yibai seriously as an artist, we cannot ignore the commentary implicit in these works. We are losing something important in our everyday culture and in the quality of our lives. Once we lose sight of these qualities, where do we go? And what do we have to replace them?
Robert C. Morgan is an educator, art historian, critic, poet, and artist. Knowledgeable in the history and aesthetics of both Western and Asian art, Morgan has lectured widely, written hundreds of critical essays (translated into twenty languages), published monographs and books, and curated numerous exhibitions. He has written reviews for Art in America, Arts, Art News, Art Press(Paris), Sculpture Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and Hyperallergic. His catalog essays have been published by Gagosian, Pace, Sperone Westwater, Van Doren Waxter, White Cube (London), Kukje (Seoul), Malingue (Hong Kong), and Ink Studio (Beijing). Since 2010, he has been New York Editor for Asian Art News and World Sculpture News, both published in Hong Kong. He teaches in the Graduate Fine Arts Program at Pratt Institute as an Adjunct Professor and at the School of Visual Arts.
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