Critics’ Picks

Sheng Qi, Under the Shadow, 2007, acrylic on canvas, each 31 1/2 x 47".

Beijing

Sheng Qi

F2 Gallery | F2画廊
no.319, Caochangdi, Chaoyang District | 朝阳区草场地村319号艺术东区内
May 24–August 17, 2009

Sheng Qi, famous for his performance art and for photographing his self-mutilated left hand, paints enormous groups of small figures, most viewed from above and generally in black and red. His painting in this exhibition of a one-legged child performing for a crowd is terrifying, and his representation of a dead girl in a bikini, seen from the back, is oddly mysterious. Under the Shadow, 2007, a diptych––red on the right, black on the left––presents figures in the rain walking in Tiananmen Square. Like Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych, 1962, this piece demonstrates how the cinematic aesthetics of repetition can effectively serve art—in Sheng’s case, political art. His strongest works depict vast crowds. Red Umbrella Close View, 2008, offers a mass of people from above, this time with red umbrellas on a dark, rainy day. More effectively than news photographs, these paintings display the terrifying beauty of anonymous men and women, seen from afar and set on grids. A statement at the entrance to the gallery that reads POWER TO THE PEOPLE announces a utopian political goal. Yet in this case the people he depicts are powerful because there are so many of them, all sitting or marching in perfectly coordinated order.