Seven years ago, Liu Bolin, now 39, was barely scraping by with a degree from a prestigious Chinese art school. Now he’s arguably the most recognizable contemporary Chinese artist today—if you can find him, that is.
When the police destroyed the artists’ village where Liu resided in 2005, he created a photograph of himself standing in front of his demolished studio with his face and clothing painted in a manner that blended into the shattered remains of his former home. This started his signature line of work; since he has integrated himself into hundreds of backgrounds worldwide, earning him the nickname “Invisible Man.” Liu’s work, a mix of photography, sculpture, and painting, illustrates the tension between society and the individual, and his images have symbolized various messages including repression and suffering. Two years ago one of Liu’s most famous images, which depicted the artist disappearing into a magazine rack in New York, sold for $18,000. It was recently resold on the secondary market for $46,000. And his art continues to rise in value—one edition showing Liu hiding in a mural of Chinese dragons is set at $250,000.