The Pace Gallery will present the first solo U.S. exhibition of Chinese painter Li Songsong. The exhibition features eleven new large-scale oil paintings, with works measuring up to seventeen feet wide. Li Songsong will be on view from May 6 through August 5 at 534 W. 25th Street, with a public opening for the artist on May 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. A catalogue accompanying the exhibition will include an artist interview conducted by curator and critic Leng Lin, president of The Pace Gallery, Beijing and founder of the Beijing Commune, and an essay by Barbara Pollack, a leading writer on contemporary Chinese art.
Li Songsong’s impasto paintings transform photographs, film stills, and other found images into grids of subtle color. Drawing from images that address charged moments in recent world history or contentious current events and snapshots that are more personal and idiosyncratic, Li dismembers and reassembles the image into squares of lush paint in tones ranging from pastel to somber, with some brushstrokes cutting through two or more inches of oil paint to reveal other colors hidden below. By removing the image from its original context, he maintains a distance between the content of the image and the final painting. The transformed image—divided analytically into rectangular fragments, reworked with multiple Couple, 2011, oil on canvas, 11' 9 3/4" x 9' 10 1/8" layers of paint, pocked and daubed with unexpected colors—becomes abstract and expressionistic, both obscuring and neutralizing the original content as it explores the imperfection of memory.
Li explains that the key to his paintings lies in the formal interpretation of the image, as well as the dissonance between content and style: “It’s like telling a story packed with violence and gore with a huge smile on your face. It’s how the stories are told that attracts you, and that’s the art of
it. Everyone knows the story. The important thing is the way that you tell it.”
He approaches each fragment of the grid individually, moving methodically from left-to-right and top-to-bottom and finishing one square before moving on to the next. In the catalogue essay, Pollack notes that Li’s method of gridding echoes not only that of contemporary Western
painters like Chuck Close, but also those used for the paintings made during the Socialist Realist period of the Cultural Revolution, which were based on a grid imposed on a photographic image that was then enlarged, square by square. But while portions of the giant portrait of Mao in Tiananmen Square are readable in isolation, Li’s abstract mosaics only become figurative when
grouped together so that the eye can reconstitute the smears and furrows of paint into a recognizable image.
Li Songsong was born in Beijing in 1973. He graduated from the Subsidiary School of the Central
Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 1992 and received a B.F.A in oil painting from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1996. In 2002 Li Songsong became one of the first Chinese artists to establish a studio in the 798 Arts District of Beijing, which is now the home of The Pace Gallery, Beijing. Li Songsong was the subject of the solo exhibition Abstraction at Pace in Beijing in 2009, and was also included in the gallery’s inaugural exhibition in 2008 and the 2010 exhibition Great Performances. The artist has been included at in numerous international exhibitions at institutions including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; MoMA PS1, New York; the Saatchi Gallery, London; Ullens Center, Beijing; the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum; the Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland; and the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany. His work was also part of “Through the Looking Glass,” a special project for the 2007 Moscow Biennale.