Childhood Friends, Now Major Artists: Liu Xiaodong and Wang Xiaoshuai
By Kevin B. Lee
When Wang Xiaoshuai realized he could never paint as finely as his high school pal Liu Xiaodong, he gave up painting and turned to filmmaking. Liu was one of the few students from the Central Academy of Fine Arts to have a solo exhibition right after graduation. Wang, however, went through some years in low tide working in Fujian Film Studio in the early 1990s. Since then, Wang has won many international awards for his movie productions, including the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2001. His latest project, Chongqing Blues, competed for the Golden Palm at last year’s Cannes International Film Festival.
Liu himself is no stranger to film, having worked as an artistic collaborator with independent Sixth Generation filmmakers in the 90s, and later serving as the subject of Jia Zhangke’s documentary Dong. Recently, he is the subject of another documentary, this time by Hou Hsiao-hsien, that follows Liu as he returns to his hometown in northeast China.
At the talk Liu addressed criticism that his work takes advantage of his subjects, making millions of dollars from painting portraits of the poor and exploited. “This is hardly avoidable as we live in a commercial age,” Liu said. “Society commercializes a person incredibly quickly. As an artist, I have to be alert about being commercialized too.”