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Burning Obama Sculpture, A Hot Controversy

ArtBistro / Eli Klein Fine Art

November 19, 2009

Liu Bolin, “Burning Man Obama”, 2009, Bronze and pyrotechnics, Courtesy Eli Klein Fine Art

A New Art Star Is Born

Until recently, few people had heard of Liu Bolin. He is one of 40 Chinese artists represented by Eil Klein Fine Art in Soho.

What happened to catapult his career into the stratosphere? It was a perfect storm that included a newly finished sculpture of a burning President Obama, President Obama’s visit to China and a media frenzy eager to pick up everyday citizens’ reactions to his visit.

Bolin’s image of “Burning Man Obama” was all over the web last week. Over 400,000 blogs picked it up. Bolin is one of a handful of artists whose work suddenly hit a nerve in our contemporary cultural dialogue and won a great amount of fame.

“Burning Man Obama” is made of bronze, a very traditional sculpture material. It is a bust and about one quarter life sized. It is covered with holes. Coming through the pedestal is a propane flame. When the gas is turned on and flows through the holes, the lit Obama sculpture is engulfed in flames. The bronze then changes colors according due to the intense heat. The gas has to be turned off after three minutes so that the bronze can cool. This image has stirred quite a controversy surrounding its intended meaning.

Influence of the Internet

That controversy was propelled by the internet. Bolin finished this piece just in time for President Obama’s visit. He posted a photo of it on the Internet and it almost instantaneously made his work famous. Many artists use the internet to promote their work including Bolin. Eli Kelin has over 40 images of his work on their site, but before last week, few people had seen them. Now, over a third of the gallery’s website traffic is from Google, and Bolin is overwhelmed with media requests. ArtBistro is one of 477 media outlets who have requested to speak to him.

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