Art for the Instagram Age: Liu Bolin at the Complesso del Vittoriano
When Liu Bolin’s Beijing art studio was demolished by the government in 2005, he painted himself into a photo of the rubble. This ‘invisible man’ format, where Bolin wears a jacket and pants that will be painted into the background, had instant, universal appeal. His popularity spread like a Youtube celeb, both for his Where’s Waldo sense of play as for the causes he highlighted.
At the Complesso del Vittoriano exhibit, visitors rushed from photo to photo, excited to spot well-known sights that he disappeared into. The Colosseum, a fresco in Pompeii, a London phone booth. His work taps into a child-like curiosity, that asks, where will he disappear next?
Can’t find him?
Check the middle of the set. That’s where he likes to hide.
My favorite pieces were those that played with composition, e.g. where Bolin was not standing dead center. In Indian Taxi, seven drivers are painted to blend into their tuk tuks, amidst yellow roofs, leaf green metal, and grey front tires; an oblique reminder of individuality.
Rothko had the flat color plane. Pollock splattered. Bolin disappears. The icebergs are melting, so he went to Iceland. Charlie Hebdo’s office was bombed, so he stood in front of their magazine covers and let his assistants paint his suit and face. Instant noodles contain a chemical linked to cancer, so he stood in the grocery aisle.
At least, that’s how his career began.
The line between art and commercialism, in the Instagram age, is blurry enough, without museums displaying ads for companies like Moncler. Annie Liebovitz’s photo of Bolin on an iceberg is one of the most compelling of the show, beating the artist at his own game. It was one of several pieces that crossed the line, too far in my opinion, into marketing. If the artist is highlighting causes, then why paint Jean-Paul in the same stripes as his bateau shirts? (In another genius maneuver, Bolin tends to assign himself the role of standing still while a team of helpers carry out the painstaking hard work of painting and photography.)
Bolin zeroed in on Venice because its existence is threatened by global warming and deterioration, but what’s the crisis at Ferrari? Valentino? A deceptively ‘simple’ way to speak truth to power morphed into eye-popping Facebook pictures. What the exhibition is really cataloguing, in the 70 works, is the story an artist an artist more interested in self-promotion, a la Andy Warhol, than creating art with integrity.
Complesso del Vittoriano
Via San Pietro in Carcere (Piazza Venezia)
Till 1 July 2018
Mon–Thurs 9.30am–7.30 pm; Fri –Sat, 9.30 am–10 pm; Sun 9.30am – 8.30pm
Entry fee: €10-12