Before you hurry to scroll down and check out these images, we kindly invite you to read this introduction first - because if you’re not already familiar with the work of Liu Bolin, I guarantee that you will be very confused. At first sight, it’s nothing but an everyday scenery we see in these photographs and prints, snapshots of Beijing or even London, the simplest picture of a train on the tracks. As arts often tend not to be so clear, it’s only expected that a person things “well, this is art ‘cause someone said so”, even though they don’t really get it. But there’s another thing that art does as well - it reveals things right before our eyes, we just need to give it a better look.
For in these images hides Liu Bolin, and they don’t call him “China’s invisible man” for nothing. They are his self-portraits, taken during his trips around the world. They are silent, yet powerful statements on identity, existence, contemporary social issues of his country and they tackle the concept of “blending in”, both metaphorically and literally. In an extraordinary play with perception and painting, Liu Bolin becomes an imperceptible part of his own creation, and vice versa, inviting us to “find” him. Throughout his rich artistic career, which started back in 1998 with his first solo exhibitions in Beijing, the invisible man has been “hiding in the cities” across the planet. To give testimony to his remarkable process there are many photographic prints, which have been more than successful at auctions over the years. These are the best-selling among them.
Liu Bolin gained international recognition with his Hiding in the City series, which started in November 2005. The artist, facing the demolition of the Beijing artist village Suo Hia Cun, decided to stage a silent protest, calling out the Chinese government for not supporting its artists. This marked the start of a journey which had him go around the metropolis, incorporating himself into the city itself. The 2009 C-print Hiding in the City No.87, Demolition shows the artist in a slightly uncomfortable position, lying down on a pile of bricks in Shandong, China.
Hiding in the City No.87 sold for $5,650 at Bukowskis Stockholm in 2011.
The city of Beijing became Liu Bolin’s background, his main surrounding in every sense of the word. Prior to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, he did a series of photographs around the city, participating in the preparation for the big event in a rather unusual way. It wasn’t the monuments that he “became”, but the signs announcing the Olympics, like in the case of Meeting 2008. Another fine example of his demanding, meticulous work.
Meeting 2008 went for $6,010 at Piasa Paris in 2011.
The success of his Hiding in the City project took him around the world, to places like London, and when in London, it’s almost a prerogative to take a picture in front of the iconic telephone booth. Although, we could hardly call this photograph a regular vacation portrait. Liu Bolin’s artistry requires lots of preparation, but what’s interesting is that, in all his images, the artist always wears the same Chinese military uniform. But that’s only the beginning.
Hiding in the City No.65 achieved $6,140 at Phillips, De Pury & Luxembourg in London in 2010.
Liu Bolin’s photographs don’t just tackle his country’s problems, but also those on a global scale. Many times, he invests himself in recognizable symbols of different nations, such as flags - in this case, it’s the flag of the European Union, executed in 2008. Liu Bolin can be considered an artist, a performer and a photographer, whose visions become reality thanks to a team of people as well, who are there to help him for each photograph.
UE Flag was sold for $6,150 at Meeting Art Vermicelli in 2014.
Before stepping into a frame, Liu Bolin makes sure his assistances get the right angle first. The composition of each scene takes time and a lot of attention to detail, so that the final image can be as flawless as possible. He often immerses himself into natural landscapes, like in the case of Garden from the Olympic Games, where Liu Bolin literally became a part of a lawn created in celebration of the event.
Garden from the Olympic Games reached $6,300 at Piasa Paris in 2011.
A classical work, the 2010 C-print Hiding in the City No.89, Forbidden City sees - or better yet, hides - Liu Bolin in front of the Forbidden City palace in Beijing, one of China’s most recognizable landmarks. At the size of 52.4 x 79.4 cm, below the medium for a Liu Bolin work, we can still see the painting technique applied to the artist’s entire body, and the importance of just the right shooting angle - because moving one centimetre to the side means the balance is gone.
In 2013, Hiding in the City No.89, Forbidden City went for $6,710 at Yann Le Mouel Paris.
With the help of a painter and an assistant, Liu Bolin has to stand completely motionless while he is being painted over. This process usually takes hours - up to ten, to be precise - which is, let’s admit, the core element of his artistic practice. He is the creator and the subject of his own art, an art that tries to survive in the environment of conservative and severe China. Traditions are to be respected, including the one of celebrating National Day in a certain way, which cannot be changed under any circumstances.
Phillips, De Pury & Luxembourg sold Hide in the City No.90, National Day in 2011, for $6,850.
It’s no wonder that they call him “the human chameleon”. It really seems as though Liu Bolin can fit in anything. His is a statement and a comment, on his country’s social and physical change, his capital city’s rapid development, which leaves deep consequences. Squares, as the locations where changes are sought after by people looking to start a revolution, are bound to become a part of Liu Bolin’s works, as one of the integral elements of cities and histories.
At Bukowskis Stockholm in 2014, No.1 Square was sold for $7,015.
Liu Bolin’s is also an observation on consumerism and the way it affects the mind of its user. In Hiding In The City, Balloon, he uses helium balloons, children’s toys, and lets them take over, much like we ourselves do more often that we may realise. It is one of Liu Bolin’s most complex photographs, where it does take you a moment to “find” him, as the painting on his clothing seems truly impeccable and flawless.
Hiding In The City, Balloon was valued at $8,760 at Yann Le Mouel Paris in 2014.
Speaking of a difficult search, we can’t not mention #34 Red In The East, where Liu Bolin once again lets us believe it is just a regular photo of a locomotive. He used it twice in his work, taking photographs from different angles which, of course, consequentially also required a different kind of “body” painting. We surely can’t get enough of the invisible man, and we look forward to seeing what he does next - whether it’s an artistic collaboration such as the one with JR or a remarkable project for a world organization such as the United Nations.
As Liu Bolin’s most successful photograph at auctions, #34 Red In The East was sold for $12,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2015.