It would be easy to come to Li Songsong’s show at Pace London with certain assumptions, projections, and ideas about the last ten years of contemporary painting from China. Assumptions informed by how galleries have vulgarly packaged Chinese contemporary art as a struggle for freer (market) expression. Projections on what it means for an artist to make a painting in post-Deng Xiaoping‘s China. Ideas built around an understanding mostly gathered from following the influx of Chinese painters into the western art market through glossy adverts and the occasional review in art mags. At the very best, one might think that there is a prerequisite for implied political critique in the narrative surrounding contemporary art being produced in China.
Now, going to see a show with a title such as We Have Betrayed the Revolution won’t help dispel things either. If you try to make sense of this show with this particular Manchurian filter of accumulated misunderstanding—as I did—it will upset you in the way that an internet purchase fails to meet one’s expectations. This is mostly due to using the wrong filter to understand this work, but also is partly due to a Western misunderstanding of Li’s narrative device of appropriated historical and pop culture imagery. Anyone from the People’s Republic of China will understand the references—or so I’ve been told—but for the outsider it’s a curve ball to nostalgia-ized painting. Clear the mind of expectation and you’ll quickly realize that you received a much better deal. Li is a painter’s painter and it’s apparent that he loves his craft.