Critics’ Picks

Asian Fashion (Ana), 2002.

Berlin

Ling Jian: Asian Fashion/Asian Vibes

Asian Fine Arts/Prüss & Ochs

March 2–April 13, 2002

Ling Jian has adopted a new approach to Orientalism. The Berlin-based Chinese artist has painted portraits of Germans pulling back the edges of their eyelids with their fingers. Ling wants to transform this racist gesture into a positive one in order to explore and complicate European interest in the Far East, whether economic, spiritual, or cultural. Not surprisingly, the subjects portrayed here include not only friends but also top German political figures such as Dr. Antje Vollmer, vice president of the German parliament. All appear among images of serene, smiling Buddhas, effectively turning ugly stereotypes into pop icons without deflating their political dimension. It’s difficult to look at these works without feeling politically incorrect. Ling is most convincing when he infuses his subjects’ Asiaphilia with his own perceptions of European art history. The naked man and woman portrayed in Asian Fashion. Wintertag I & II, 2001, could be a Renaissance take on Adam and Eve, except both are wearing black caps and pulling back one eyelid. These double portraits convey a sense of paradise, but one is not sure if it’s in Florence, Shanghai, or Berlin. The artist destroys the possibility of racial stereotypes by presenting his subjects in multiple times, cultures, and places.