Li-lan at O.K. Harris
Art In America
Li-lan has figured out a way to make the almost purely representational almost purely formal. Represented in this show were sheets of business stationery – “While You Were Out” pads, sets of triplicate sales books, money receipts, air freight invoices – summoned up big and pretty in oil on canvas, with no painterly “handwriting,” indeed, no sign of human interference on them at all. Instead, what we get is the formal aspect of these items: “While You Were Out” notes, four to a page (bound in trompe-l’oeil spiral binder), arranged horizontally two by two, the top and bottom right-hand slips pink, the other yellow. These each bear the legends and blanks familiar to all who’ve worked in an office: “M _______________,” “Of ______________,” “Phone _______________,” and “Message.” In this respect the work is a perfect blend of utterly familiar and the as yet unknown – nothing is filled in – and we are thus invited to regard the canvas formally even as we cannot help but acknowledge the representational reference.
Things get a little more complex as you go along. Salesbook: Triplicate Sets features three such slips separated and placed alongside each other (with, again, trompe-l’oeil ring-binder and trompe-l’oeil perforations). The one to the left is white, the center slip yellow, the third pink – buyer’s copy, sales copy, store copy, one imagines – with “no. 7517” and space for the date printed along the top. Like the “While You Were Out” pads these triplicate slips bear an array of hollow “check-one” boxes that nicely echo the repeated quadrilateral format of these works. One particularly felicitous work featured a yellow air freight invoice, with one end showing, the rest covered by a powder blue slip of the same sort, the hollow boxes, the dollar signs, arrows and sign-by-the-“X”‘s all adding immeasurably to the placid beauty of the piece.
Air Freight Invoice – 1985
It could be said that these works all really have to do with money, as if in some improbable cross between Andy Warhol and Agnes Martin. All grist for the artistic mill, Li-lan seems to be telling us. It’s tricky work, and there were perhaps too many pieces in the show, but it’s basically sound as art, as one woman’s perceptions of signs in the world around us to be more closely apprehended – and valued.