Beijing-Based Artist Liu Xiaodong Has Been Stranded in New York for Months—Watch Him Traverse the City for Inspiration

Liu Xiaodong's watercolors of New York City on lockdown, along with his daily diary, can be viewed online at Lisson Gallery.

Liu Xiaodong, Twin Sisters 2020.4.7, 2020. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery
Liu Xiaodong, Twin Sisters 2020.4.7 (2020). Courtesy of Lisson Gallery

When the Beijing-based artist Liu Xiaodong traveled to New York City earlier this year with his wife and daughter, he never anticipated just how long he would stay. As the city went into lockdown, they found themselves quarantined and unable to travel back home for the foreseeable future.

So, for the past four months, the artist has lived and worked out of a small Manhattan apartment, going on long walks, photographing scenes with his phone, and capturing vignettes of the city during an undoubtedly historic time, which he later translates into watercolors. 

Liu Xiaodong, <i>Untitled 2020.6.13</i> (2020). Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

Liu Xiaodong, Untitled 2020.6.13 (2020). Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

In some sense, Liu is an ideal artist to depict life amid a pandemic. The painter, who first emerged out of the Chinese Neorealist movement of the 1990s, spent his career developing grand-scale figurative scenes that capture global crises ranging from population displacement to environmental catastrophe and economic upheaval. His work has long centered on complex artistic and social projects, from depicting the lives of the transgender community in Singapore to the relocation of families during the Three Gorges Project. One could see his work as a kind of contemporary history painting.  

Liu Xiaodong, At my Doorstep 2020.6.1 (2020). Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

Liu Xiaodong, At my Doorstep 2020.6.1 (2020). Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

In Liu’s latest body of work—now online in the exhibition “Liu Xiaodong: Spring in New York” at Lisson Gallery—captures the day-to-day lived experience of the crisis. The intimate images range from empty streets and playgrounds to blossoming trees and bursting foliage. There are also portraits of his wife and daughter in face masks and images of couples walking the dog. Eventually, these more quiet moments eventually give way to images of Black Lives Matter demonstrations and scenes of a community slowly reemerging as spring turns into summer.

Liu Xiaodong, Applause from the Left Side of my Balcony 2020.4.21, 2020. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

Liu Xiaodong, Applause from the Left Side of my Balcony 2020.4.21, 2020. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

The artist kept a written diary alongside the visual chronicle of his experiences, which can be read here. In one entry, he captures a widely shared sentiment, writing, “In 2020, we all know the world is chaotic and not really fair. We all wish this year could be over soon, that we could just wipe it out our calendars, to go back to the past, even though the past wasn’t perfect, either.”

Watch Liu Xiaodong wander the streets of New York for inspiration below.

Liu Xiaodong: Spring in New York” is on view online with Lisson Gallery through July 11, 2020.

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