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Liu Xiaodong in "Beijing"

A leading figurative painter, Liu Xiaodong creates large-scale works that dramatize the lives of everyday people: migrants, laborers, and others on the economic and geographic margins. Best known for his live, en plein air process, Liu travels to Eagle Pass, Texas, a city on the United States-Mexico border, to paint a county sheriff, his friends, and colleagues. As he works outdoors, Liu contends with the natural elements to complete his ambitious mural-size work, composed of loose brushstrokes and rich colors. The artist considers this process a meditative one that allows him to soften the harsh edges of the world. Reflective of the rise of China to prominence on the world stage, Liu discusses his humble origins as a boy raised in rural China, which inspired him to depict real and relatable people, and his international success, working across cultures and continents. Ultimately, Liu hopes, “Audiences will look at my art and think of themselves.” His paintings are at once tenderly realized portraits of specific people and places and also universalizing scenes from our globalized lives.

More information and credits


Executive Producer: Tina Kukielski. Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Directors: Bryan Chang and Vicky Du. Producer: Vicky Du. Editor: Bryan Chang. Director of Photography: Bryan Chang.

Production Services: Meerkat Media. Assistant Curator: Danielle Brock. Field Producers: Yifan Wen and Qianying Zhao. Design & Animation: Momentist, Inc. Composer: Joel Pickard. Advising Producer: Ian Forster: Additional Art21 Staff: Lauren Barnett, Lolita Fierro, Joe Fusaro, Meghan Garven, Jonathan Munar, and Emma Nordin. Narration: Okema T. Moore.

Additional Photography: Robert Cauble, Vicky Du, Andrew Kemp, Christoph Lerch, Riani Singgih, Yifan Wen, and Yang Bo. Assistant Camera: Ogey Samhadi, Charlie Stoddart, and Yifan Wen. Location Sound: Rayell Abad, Long Lv, Sean Millar, Shi Qian, and Zhou Yang.

Digital Intermediate: Cut + Measure. Post-Production Producer: Alex Laviola. Colorist: Jerome Thélia. Post-Production Sound Services: Konsonant Post. Re-Recording Mixer & Sound Editor: Gisela Fullà-Silvestre. Online & Conform: David Gauff. Additional Animation: Andy Cahill. Assistant Editors: Jasmine Canon, Jonah Greenstein, Tianyao Ma, and Mengchen Zhang. Translation: Xiaoyu Song, Yixin Tong, and Mengchen Zhang. Descriptive Video Information: Captionmax.

Artwork Courtesy: Guan Xiao, Liu Xiaodong, Song Dong, Xu Bing, Yin Xiuzhen, Chambers Fine Art, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Lisson Gallery, and Pace Gallery. Archival Materials: Dabarti CGI, HEC Media, Pond 5, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gord Webster, Yang Bo, Hung-i Yao, and Yitiao. Additional Music: APM Music.

Public Relations: Cultural Counsel. Station Relations: De Shields Associates, Inc. Legal Counsel: Barbara T. Hoffman, Esq. Interns: Kristie Chua, Shane Daly, Malique Daniels, Grace Doyle , Eda Li, Daniela Mayer, Jason Mendoza, Nikhil Oza, Anika Rahman, Ana Sanz, Sara Schwartz, Victoria Xu, and Sadie Yanckello.

Special Thanks: The Art21 Board of Trustees, Asia Art Archive in America, Marco Betelli, Emma Bright, CAFA Art Museum, Xinglu Chen, Mengna Da, Atika Dewi, Peter Doroshenko, Alejandro Flores, Robie Flores, Melissa Saenz Gordon, Nina Hidayat, Esther Knuth, Alessandra Lacorazza, Jia Li, Li Liang, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Christophe Mao, Museum MACAN, Qu Shanpu, Tom Schmerber, Chloe Shi, Nicolas Smirnoff, Song Errui, Jeffrey Sterrenberg, Tianyi Sun, Today Art Museum, Paula Tsai, UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Venice Biennale, Andrea Vesentini, Wang Zhongyao, Xiaoyu Weng, Wu Hung, Wu Yue, Xia Wenbin, Jane Xiao, and Yi Zhou.

Major underwriting for Season 10 of Art in the Twenty-First Century is provided by PBS, National Endowment for the Arts, Lambent Foundation, The Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Toby Devan Lewis, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Henri Lambert, Nion McEvoy & Leslie Berriman, and Sakana Foundation.

Series Creators: Susan Dowling and Susan Sollins.

©2020 Art21, Inc.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Liu Xiaodong

Liu Xiaodong was born in 1963 in Jincheng, in the province of Liaoning, China. A leading figure among the Chinese Neo-Realist painters, Liu Xiaodong depicts everyday people in his enormous oil-and-acrylic paintings, foregrounding the human dimension of global issues like economic hardship, environmental crisis, and migration. The artist often works on site, painting his subjects en plein air.

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Amid Beijing’s dizzying economic, urban, and cultural transformation, five artists respond to the region’s relentless evolution with urgency and ambition, all the while contending with many centuries of Chinese cultural traditions.

Season 10 Educators' Guide

Educators’ Guides provide information about selected artists and themes, questions for classroom discussions, and hands-on activities that provide students with a fundamental understanding of creative and critical thinking processes.