Critics’ Picks

Zhou Li, Lines – White Shadow No.2, 2016, mixed media on canvas 79 x 79".

Zhou Li, Lines – White Shadow No.2, 2016, mixed media on canvas 79 x 79".


Zhou Li

Yuz Museum Shanghai 余徳耀美术馆
No.35 Fenggu Road
February 25–June 4, 2017

In the pitch-black two-room gallery, Zhou Li’s cream-gray paintings on the walls glow in the dark. The opening work, Reflections in the Mirror, 2017—a drawing that turns out to be a light box painted black but for a single snaking line allowing light through—could be mistaken for a twisted neon tube. At the end of the second, bigger room, two paired, grand red monochrome paintings (the only instance of the hue in the show) titled Loving No1 and Loving No2, both 2017, provide a quieting emotional release, as a contemplative form of color-field painting, to a tumultuous inner journey conjured by over a dozen pale, abstract canvases abounding with gestural lines. These traverse the surfaces, bending on their way, or forming ovoid shapes that seem to quiver, swell, drift. Lines – the Shadows of the Shadows, No.9, 2016–17, for example, is one of the largest and busiest canvases on view; it is covered with lines and circles over an off-white background, except for a space in the middle. The work is reminiscent of a traditional Chinese landscape with mountains and water.

Li diligently embraces the spirit of historical Chinese scholarship—in the way her works aim at capturing the inner essence of their subjects—and applies layers of paint over months or even years, channeling the accumulating energy of her meditative approach onto her canvases. But the exhibition as a whole is also an immersive installation. Somewhere above in the dark, hidden speakers relay what sounds like a slow heartbeat—a muffled sound track solemnly amplifying the mystery of the darkness. The theatrics of the shadows and the hidden pool of emotions embodied by the canvas surfaces make visitors feel like they’ve invaded an inner sanctum.