According to its own line of questioning, Liu Ding’s Store should not be called an ‘exhibition.' "Take Home and Make Real the Priceless in Your Heart," "The Utopian Future of Art, Our Reality," "Friendship" and "Conversations" are ‘product lines.' These mark the latest development in Liu Ding’s exploration of value, a project that began in 2008 and includes liudingstore.com. His Store presents objects in such a way as to call into question the mechanisms that create, confirm and convey value. Plucked from their customary systems, which could for example be visual, temporal, relative or spatial, the objects arranged here provide a platform for exploring this theme.
The windows of the gallery have been given white awnings with the slogan ‘Liu Ding’s Store’ in looped blue writing, laying a useful commercial echo over the blank windows of the gallery box. Inside are displayed identikit unfinished landscapes; made to the artist’s order in a factory, a single motif occupies part of each one. "Take Home and Make Real the Priceless in Your Heart" invites the buyer to finish the painting themselves. Each ‘piece’ carries Liu Ding’s signature and sells for 1500rmb. There is a duality to this sum: cheap for an art work, expensive for speculation based on the symbolic - or potential - value of the artist’s name and hand….or not, depending on your personal belief. In the next room is laid out "The Utopian Future of Art, Our Reality." There are several items of antique furniture – tables, an opium bed – interspersed with some other objects, for example ‘Concrete Shits’ by artist Li Jinghu, a toy crane and a package returned in the post. Liu has to date produced six ‘themed vitrines’ – cabinets in which objects have been placed according to a theme chosen by the artist which overrides any previous systems or contexts which might previously have framed and valued those objects. Each object is priced equally as a division of the total price of the whole cabinet and its contents. In the other wing of the gallery, Friendship consists of low white platforms with lamps, bottles of Nongfu mineral water, plants and white rocks on or around them. For sale here is an ‘abstract psychological space’ - this installation purports to encourage people to gather and interact. Last comes "Conversations," a series of informal photos of the artist in the company of curators and others. Here, ‘adventurous and forward-looking’ customers are asked to buy into the value of real experiences.
Of the four components of this display, the first two are arguably stronger. Coupled with sophisticated and fluent wall texts, it is here that Liu’s aim to dismantle certain norms feels most convincing. The canvases, signed and stacked, are a pithy idea: incomplete, non-original, they successfully pull the plug on the aesthetic mask of the Work of Art, allowing Liu to expose ‘what is really being traded’ in these commodities, that is, ‘something more imperceptible - the possibility that the artist could become a legend.' Their floating images convey a distant reminder of pure visual appeal. But will anyone actually take Liu Ding up on his invitation, or is convention simply too powerful a force? Is there anyone brave enough to impose their ‘art’ on a piece signed by a famous artist, anyone willing to jeopardize the future value of the art work with their own additions?
Conceptual though it might be, it is worth noting how "The Utopian Future of Art…" actually looks. This juxtaposition of different things is not incongruous but visually unified and pleasing. Here perhaps is wherein lies either a success or a weakness for the new system Liu proposes. Lifted from their respective classifications – play, craftsmanship, study etc. - grouped together under an abstract theme (‘The Weight of an Art History Book’), and equally priced, these items have been freed from certain norms of valuation. But this new ‘system’, which some find very ‘political,' is still cocooned in a gallery - surely the very kind of context it purports to provoke.
Liu Ding’s current work does not stand alone. Earlier this year, the shop idea appeared in The Youth Sale Store, an artist-led effort to transcend curatorial prescriptions and market pressures to forge new practices for themselves. This too is a continuing and itinerant project - an ever-open ‘store space.' As the language of art is dissected and exposed, so it must adopt a new language: that of materialism and commodity. Liu Ding’s production-line canvases also echo Xu Zhen’s company MadeIn, where a team of different artisans produce reams of work. Like Liu, Xu is not a sole creator here: “for now," he says, “Xu Zhen the artist does not exist.” In spite of these factors, however, the fact remains that the directorial voice of the artists looms large over both projects. Where the first two parts of Liu Ding’s Store offer proposals for new systems, both "Conversations" and "Friendship" are valuable – as experiences or environments - because Liu Ding says so. As such, perhaps he is not so much questioning established value systems here as simply placing economic value where it had not previously been, and asking, “why should this not be acceptable?”
Liu Ding’s Store is engaging and thought-provoking. Some might feel that the ‘white cube’ finally triumphs over the system-shaking concepts presented there. On the other hand, that the frame should vie with what is placed inside it is perhaps further fodder for Liu’s game, a tension between context and contents. The text reminds us, however, that ‘every element of a context frames another.’ Thus, Liu’s hall of mirrors splices again.
-- Iona Whittaker
(All images courtesy of Galerie Urs-Meile and the artist.)