Get Lost in the Library with Xie Xiaoze

There is an undeniable allure to the carefully-bound volumes of the past, books and bodies of work once considered precious currency whose value endures even into present day.  It is this endurance that lends its title to Xie Xiaoze’s lovely new show at Chambers Fine Art, on view in Chelsea, New York City, until June 17th.

Hung in the current fashion without titles or labels beside the works, it is amazing what can be deduced from the images alone.  The first room is hung with five medium-sized canvases, four of which contain close-up glimpses of vertically arranged books in various stages of decay.  The ribbed bindings and leathery color, along with fleeting bits of Latin titles, recall a kind of sacred European library.  Various lighting effects are explored, the most sumptuous of which looks very much like candlelight – indeed, a small protruding bookmark from the yellowing pages of an ancient tome in one piece looks for all the world like the flame of a candle.  Approaching the seemingly photo-realistic canvases helps little, for the artist has created a marvelous illusion particular to paint: the closer the viewer approaches, the more the illusion falls away and the painting devolves into abstraction and pure paint-upon-canvas.  Step away a few paces, and the painting again resembles a luscious photograph.


Image courtesy of Chambers Fine Art

The final painting in the first room is an introduction to the next, and more openly plays with this semi-abstraction.  Wrapped in a saffron orange cloth vividly reminiscent of Buddhist monks’ robes, this canvas is the only in the first room where the “book” lies horizontally.  I use quotations because, taken out of context, few would label this as a painting of a book.  The orange cloth has shrouded it entirely, and the play of its twisting becomes a lovely dance between realism and the abstract.

The next room is full of larger-scale works where all but one depict the books stacked horizontally, as if about to be carried away.  Arranged this way, as horizontal stacks, the viewer feels the weight of these pages, and the paintings feel anchored and incredibly still.  This weight is in contrast to the brightly colored pages and bindings of thinner, more well-preserved volumes hung on the left of the room, and also in irony to the violence of fire of the thicker, charred tomes depicted in the three breathtaking pieces to the right.  There is a clear East-meets-West feeling, since the bamboo binding and saffron colors of the Asian texts explain their origin visually.

Image courtesy of Chambers Fine Art

The stand-out pieces are the three depicting the remains of fire.  The viewer can nearly smell the charred blue-black pages, and the yellowing paper of those left intact has a glow reminiscent of flame.  A comment on our disappearing print culture, revisionist history, and the victims of war: all come to mind in these, the calmest of paintings.  If only we could reach in and flip through the pages, what beautiful truths might we learn?


Endurance: New works by Xie Xiaoze

April 6 – June 17, 2017


Chambers Fine Art

522 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011

(212) 414-1169

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