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Pace Gallery opens an exhibition of Chinese artist Li Songsong's most recent works
Installation view of Li Songsong: One of My Ancestors 540 West 25th Street, New York October 25 – December 21, 2019 Photography courtesy Pace Gallery.

NEW YORK, NY.- Pace Gallery is presenting 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 is on view on the 2nd floor of Pace’s new flagship building at 540 West 25th Street until December 21, 2019.

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.”

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 The A 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.

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 (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.

Li Songsong’s (b. 1973, Beijing) paintings animate the fragmentary nature of images and memory, paying particular attention to the people, events, and themes of modern and contemporary Chinese history. Li is interested in the way images cultivate histories and provoke memories, even when the reference to the past is nebulous and indirect. Although his compositions draw on found imagery—with a range of sources including restaurant advertisements, historical photographs, and movie stills, among others—Li freely reinterprets his sources, altering or omitting visual information. The resulting works eschew narratives, presenting pieces and traces of something rather than a totalizing record, prompting new ways of looking at existing information. He has been included in numerous international exhibitions at institutions including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; MoMA PS1, New York; the Saatchi Gallery, London; UCCA, Beijing; the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum; the Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland; and the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany. The artist currently resides and works in Beijing.

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