Lao Tongli

b. 1982 in Guangdong Province, China
Working in Guangdong, China
Showing at Asia Society Museum
On view October 27, 2020, through February 7, 2021
The desire of libido No. 5

Lao Tongli, The Desire of Libido No. 5, 2017–19. Ink and mineral colors on silk. Three panels, each: H. 96 1/2 x W. 54 3/4 in. (245 x 139 cm); overall: H. 96 1/2 x W. 164 3/16 in. (245 x 417 cm). Courtesy of the artist. Photograph courtesy of the artist

Location: Asia Society Museum
Lao Tongli, Loneliness–No. 03–03, 2015

Lao Tongli, Loneliness–No. 03–03, 2015. Pigment on silk. H. 55 1/2 x W. 108 1/4 in. (141 x 275 cm). Courtesy of the artist. Photograph courtesy of the artist

This work was commissioned by Asia Society Museum, New York for the inaugural Asia Society Triennial: We Do Not Dream Alone.


Lao Tongli’s practice can be viewed as a contemporary transformation of the centuries-old Chinese literati painting tradition while remaining open to global art currents, in particular the sensitivity to the use of color as a way to mark space and movement. The artist received a BA in Chinese painting from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 2006 and subsequently lived in Paris, France, and Heidelberg, Germany, from 2006 to 2008. 


For the Triennial, the artist has painted a monumental ink and color on silk work entitled The Desire of Libido No. 5. Referencing the monumental landscapes of the Northern Song period, this expansive composition evokes, at first glance, a forest canopy against a slate-gray sky. However, this panorama of trees takes the form of a complex interlocking web of blood vessels, rendered painstakingly in the gongbi style, which reached its peak during the Tang and Song dynasties. Gongbi uses precise brushstrokes that portray details meticulously and without much variation. The artist first came upon this imagery of blood vessels as he endured the painful experience of observing his father’s death from heart disease. The association of blood vessels within the human body with an external landscape of trees is a poignant reminder of the deep and unbreakable bonds between humans and nature. In this way, Lao returns his landscape with its seemingly unorthodox subject matter back to a central idiom of literati landscape painting. The gongbi technique used in this painting is similarly deployed by Pakistani artist Hamra Abbas, whose work is also on view as part of the Triennial, in her intimately scaled paintings, demonstrating the mobility of artistic techniques and how they take on different meanings outside of their place of origin.


Supported by INKstudio