June 17, 2015 - Secession - Laura Owens and Cao Fei
June 17, 2015

Laura Owens and Cao Fei

Cao Fei, Splendid River. Photo: Cao Fei, Guangzhou 2015.

Laura Owens
Cao Fei: Splendid River

July 2–August 30, 2015

Opening: July 1, 7pm

Friedrichstraße 12
A-1010 Vienna
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 10am–6pm 

T +43 1 587 53 07 11
F +43 1 587 53 07 34
office [​at​] secession.at 


Laura Owens

After working for several years with vintage newspapers from the 1960s, Owens serendipitously found a set of newspaper stereotype plates that had been repurposed as flashing beneath the shingles siding her Echo Park home. These paper negatives were originally made to cast the lead cylinders used on press, and all came from editions of The Los Angeles Times printed over a one month period in 1942—the year the house was built. Owens was struck by the juxtaposition of world events in the months after Pearl Harbor alongside fait divers from a bygone era in her own neighbourhood. 

For the new series of large-scale oil paintings she has digitally manipulated the original newspapers to include both recent news and advertising from contemporary publications and websites alongside even older content dating as far back as the 1890s. While some fragments contain clear references to a specific era, others are not so easy to place historically. At a glance, the sources within any given painting never cohere into a clear chronology of then and now. 

The paintings place these digitally edited newspaper pages ambiguously between the foreground and background of an unstable pictorial space. Trompe l’oeil shadows fall under the real shadows cast by thick impasto and digital brushstrokes float on the surface alongside actual oil, acrylic and Flashe paint. These shifting spatial cues further complicate the displacements of old and new across the image. Owens has also often placed her paintings in dialogue with the architecture of the exhibition space. For the exhibition at Secession, the paintings represent individual pages but comprise a constructed idea of the newspaper as a whole. Textures, colors and images repeat and continue from painting to painting just as the front page article of a newspaper might continue on page 6.

Laura Owens, born in Euclid, Ohio (USA) in 1970, lives and works in Los Angeles.

Invited by the board of the Secession
Curator: Bettina Spörr

Cao Fei
Splendid River

Cao Fei is one of the most interesting Chinese artists today. Her artistic approach is characterized by a high degree of innovation and joyful experimentation, and her work reflects this in its variety. Fei produces multimedia installations, videos, large format photography, and in her most comprehensive work to date, RMB City (2008–11), she constructed a complex virtual city full of iconic architectures on the internet platform Second Life. 

Born in Guangzhou in 1978, she belongs to the first generation to grow up in post-communist China, which calls itself New New Human Beings. In her work, Fei explores the condition of this society characterized by rapid transformations, its fears, lost dreams, the urban habitat, its fantasies and strategies to overcome or to escape reality. In so doing, she uses the (stylistic) means of social critique, conventions of documentary film, and the aesthetics of popular culture. The artist who grew up in a region of booming development, the Pearl River Delta, shows a special interest in new urban centers, whose radical transformation illustrates the contradictions of modern China, and which often serve as a backdrop for her works. 

At the Vienna Secession, Cao Fei will show a selection of works, among them key works such as RMB City project (2008–11) or Haze and Fog (2013), a recent film project that depicts the struggles of the disoriented urban middle class in a dystopian zombie setting. The artist has also conceived new works especially for the exhibition, among them the eponymous intervention on the Secession’s façade, which creates a connection between the original building in Vienna and its copy, home to a real estate business, in Fei’s hometown, Guangzhou. In the video installation Stranger (2015), Cao Fei explores the phenomenon of internet dating platforms which, while individuals seem to feel more and more disconnected to their surroundings, are becoming increasingly popular. Instead of meeting common expectations, the artist as invisible protagonist of the video clips performs everyday activities as form of communicating with the often passive voyeur, while in the installation Rumba (2015) automatic household devices like cleaning robots perform a kind of random choreography set on a stage designed as an abstracted landscape. Here, again, communication as in “building bridges” seems to be an underlying theme.

An artist book with texts, drawings and sketches by Cao Fei will be published to coincide with the exhibition.

The exhibition at Secession is the artist’s first solo show in Austria. 

Cao Fei, born in Guangzhou (China) in 1978, lives and works in Beijing.

Invited by the board of the Secession
Curator: Jeanette Pacher

Press conference: July 1, 10am
For interview requests and any other questions please contact katharina.schniebs [​at​] secession.at.

Please find the press releases and images for download here from July 1: www.secession.at/presse

Guided tours: Saturdays at 11am (in English) and 2pm (in German) and by appointment
Permanent presentation: Gustav Klimt Beethoven Frieze

Laura Owens and Cao Fei at Secession
Share - Laura Owens and Cao Fei
  • Share
Click to subscribe to e-flux and be the first to receive the latest news on international exhibitions and all e-flux related announcements
Subscribe to e-flux
Be the first to receive the latest news on international exhibitions and all e-flux related announcements.
Subscribe to architecture
Explore the most recent content from e-flux architecture and urbanism
Subscribe to e-flux programs
Keep up-to-date on all upcoming talks, screenings, and exhibitions at e-flux in New York