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Xiaoze Xie: Both Sides Now
Recent work by Xiaoze Xie at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery is divided into three methods of handling, showing a variety of approaches and effectiveness. Both Sides Now presents images of newspapers: stacked, amassed, hoarded; or presented as sheets whose thin vernacular paper bleeds through images from its opposite side, at times amalgamated deliberately into a montage by the artist. Most effective of these are precise figurative oil paintings in color of stacked newspapers as seen from the front, successive folds each revealing only an inch or two of headline or imagery.
As representatives of the news, newspapers deliver it in discrete daily chunks: a day's worth, so much and no more, that can be held between two hands and read within the space of an hour's time. But news, like papers, accumulates. Xie's paintings convey the limitlessness of the news around us, the warm bath of almost innumerable events which, anchored through editorial selection and the validation of a simple bold-faced headline such as the large typeface to the bottom left in September-October 2007, C.T. (oil on canvas: 42 x 84 in.: 2008), give a false sense of control and understanding over what is, in reality, a complex, endless stream of events. Xie's images further express ideas of repetition and change: repetition, in the neat, similarly-sized sections of papers pressing down heavily with their own weight; change, in the ever-different snatches of imagery each slightly revealed bit of center-crease conveys. One day's paper is an item sized and delivered to be compassed by our attention, but Xie's close focus on paper stacks generates the unsettling realization that the paper and the news it contains are just the tiniest tip of what's really going on in the world.
In three further paintings the artist turns the stacked papers to one side, showing only their creased edges and further distancing them from the observer through the use of monochromatic white and gray. Anonymous papers in an anonymous setting, they convey no news, only the sense of accumulation. What are, or were, endless slivers of slice-of-life news coverage reveal themselves to be no more than the bits of paper they are printed on, useless commodities in quantity once their content has been absorbed.
Large-scale paintings of news montages drawn from national and international papers form the third and largest body of work in this exhibition, but the effort toward overt political commentary is too obvious to make these works settle. Most effective is August 8, 2006, N.Y.T. (oil on canvas: 66 x 48 in.: 2007), which depicts a cropped close-up of the front page of the New York Times. The tail-end of the Times' characteristic masthead codifies and validates the image as 'news'. A man clings to the fallen front wall of a bombed-out apartment building. Xie renders it as anonymous, but the picture is real, a photograph of a bombed Beirut suburb which actually appeared on the August 8, 2006 edition of the New York Times: the headline accompanying it was "Lebanese Offer to Send Troops to Patrol Border Is Dismissed by Israel". Xie leaves off the headline, focusing instead on the ghostly bleed-through of text from the opposite side. A reversed logo of an ad for Omega, a brand of luxury watch, and the text of further news columns appear as undertext to the image, underscoring the commercial nature of newspapers in relation to the news -- newspapers must sell ads to survive -- and further underscoring the juxtaposition of news with other news, whether crucial or trivial. As in news, it is in life -- "and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen/ Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky," says W.H. Auden's poem on Breughel's painting The Fall of Icarus, "had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on."
We buy the newspapers, read the newspapers, then gather them up and throw them away, all with a false sense of control over daily events. Xie's images stack up those papers in images that persist, reminders that the events of this hour, of yesterday, of the weeks and years before, exist in a reality independent of media coverage, one that continues to affect our world even when the papers that delivered it have been swept away and gone. Eleven paintings in oil are on exhibit through May 24, 2008.
--Katherine R. Lieber
Editorial Note: W.H. Auden is quoted from his poem "Musée des Beaux Arts" (1940) in Collected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson (Modern Library, 2007).