The career of painter Ai Jing isn’t as the MFA-approved path—although her pedigree features a nationwide scandal that many young, press-hungry artists might welcome. Ai’s first career was as a beloved pop singer in Mainland China, where she was born. After a string of successful records, the artist released a controversial track, “Made in China,” that was banned by the Chinese government.
Following this banning, untoward stories swirled in the West, although the actual reasons for the censoring were based in specific nationalistic and political ideologies that most Westerners will never experience. Says the artist, “I know the story has circulated that my music was banned because of charges of pornography, but the real story is completely different. The comment from the censors, [after hearing the track] was: ‘Both the music and lyrics of “Made in China” are too obscure, and it damages the national dignity of the Chinese people to use “Made in China” as the name of the song.'” What sounds like Doublespeak clearly has a complicated affect on the artist and performer. Ai came to live in New York shortly after the incident, and has been living here for the past ten years:
“I was very upset, of course, to see my true feelings misunderstood in my own country. After my album was banned, I felt very lost for a period of time. Finally I came to the realization that I could express my self in ways other than music. That’s when I began to paint.” (Left: Love, 2009. Courtesy the artist.)
“Ai Want to Love,” a show of three-dimensional text paintings curated by fashion designer Sally Wu (in collaboration with ChinaSquare gallery), is now on view at the BoConcept design store in Soho. The pieces hang somewhat surreptitiously amidst the shop’s furniture, which was precisely the artist’s point: “I chose to collaborate with BoConcept because it seemed a good venue for the audience to experience the symbolic power of ‘love’ in a home-like setting,” says Ai. Many of the canvases feature repetitive depictions of the word LOVE applied to the canvas in three-dimensional lettering, which the artist cuts out and applies to the canvas, before painting the entire piece in a monochromatic pigment. The paintings recall letterpress plates slicked with opaque ink, while their hues of blue, gold, yellow and red signal toward Yves Klein’s deeply pigmented monochrome canvases. Yet perhaps what they most make one think of is the longing for love, understanding and acceptance inherent in any good pop song.
Ai Want to Love is on view through December 27. BoConcept is located at 69 Greene Street.