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Social Commentary Meets Beauty in the Art of Anti Liu

Terracotta Marilyn Monroe, Sculpture, 23 x 51
Perhaps the best introduction to the art of Anti Liu, a Taiwanese sculptor now living in Long Island, is his terracotta figure “ Terracotta Marilyn Monroe.” We all know the pose: It’s based on that iconic picture of the blond screen goddess standing on a subway grate with her skirt billowing up around her thighs. Only, in Liu’s version, Marilyn is represented by an ancient Chinese warrior in a chain-mail vest, with bulky leggings under his billowing hem, resembling the entire army of terracotta figures dating back to 210 BC discovered in an underground mausoleum in China in the 1970s. While imitating Marilyn’s coy pretense of trying to preserve her modesty by pushing her skirt back down, he throws his head back and grimaces grotesquely.
   The gesture encapsulates Anti Liu’s complex and convoluted satirical vision, as expressed in a recent interview: “My work demands  reaction. I create work that both comments and plays with the notions of current affairs and political action. I subtly comment on those topics while also poking fun at them. We recognize the severity of the issues at hand yet view it as if a show we are watching or a game we are playing.”
   Such is the self-admitted subtlety of Liu’s vision that his sculptures are open to a wide variety of interpretations. One possible meaning of “Marilyn Monroe” may be the observation that celebrity worship now permeates celebrity culture, distracting us from the larger problems that plague our world. Some might even say such superficial  idolatry of relatively trivial public figures offers us relief from the severity of problems that would otherwise overwhelm us with worry. One way or another, it’s all about escape. But as Liu puts it, “Who asked to be entertained?” Religion was once called “the opiate of the people.” Could it be that celebrity worship has replaced it?
   To be sure, there is a comic sensibility at work in Liu’s sculptures. However, it is informed by a social conscience, in contrast to the amoral art of Tom Otterness, the American sculptor known for his cartoon-like figures resembling Al Capp’s “shmoo” and the Pillsbury Dough Boy who has recently been deservedly vilified for shooting a dog he adopted from a shelter in the name of art for a film project.
    Since moving to the United States, Liu has stated that he sees his work as a merging of two cultures. And in his work, which speaks so eloquently for itself, he appears to be telling us that one of the things uniting the global village is the universal hunger for consumer goods, an incipient materialism that has spread like a spiritual disease. Thus home furnishings as symbols of status and mindless comfort are another subject to be sent up in his clay and wax sculptures of bulky overstuffed chairs and sofas. Unlike the overblown soft sculptures of the Pop artist Claes Oldenburg, however, which resemble bloated balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, by virtue of his surpassing command of craft as a vehicle for conceptual ideas, Liu’s sculptures, while satirical, are also possessed of a formal elegance which transmutes what is inherently banal into an object of beauty by virtue of a unique aesthetic alchemy belonging to him alone.
–– Byron Coleman

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