James Cohan Gallery Shanghai is pleased to present In Memory of a Landscape: Chen Yunjun, Huang Yuxing, and Yuan Yuan opening on November 13 and continuing through December 31, 2014. The title of this three person exhibition gives a subtle nod to Frank O’Hara, an influential American poet who was also a curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and a key figure in the art world in the 1960s. The exhibition plays on the poet’s idea that art should be deeply intimate and often autobiographical. The opening line of O’Hara’s poem begins: “My quietness has a man in it, he is transparent…”
In this exhibition three Chinese artists, Chen Yujun, Huang Yuxing and Yuan Yuan, invite viewers to experience the notion of landscapes that are devoid of man but not traces of mankind. All three of these artists were born in the 1970s, coming of age during a period of rapid urbanization. Unlike the previous generation molded by the political reformations of the country, this generation looks inward. Their issues are personal and each artist uses their artistic practice as a way to create a “landscape”--physical and metaphorical--where self, memories and nostalgia can reside.
Man-made interiors and exteriors are the subjects of Chen Yujun and Yuan Yuan’s paintings, where spaces appear uninhabited and abandoned, showing signs of decay. Although these spaces are absent of human figures, the quietness of each realm reveals a suggestion of the presence of man. Mankind’s touch lives within the construction of the building, the wallpaper, the tiles, the chairs and the life that was once lived in them.
Chen Yujun was born in Putian, Fujian Province in 1976. His hometown is known as a diaspora village. Great numbers of Chinese immigrants relocated to South East Asia in his grandparents’ generation, seeking a better life. The melding of South East Asian culture brought back by the returning generation, which is unique to Putian, has left a deep imprint on the artist. Chen Yujun's paintings of minimal spaces are titled “临时家庭”, which literally translates to “Temporary Family” and is colloquially translated to “Temporary Home”. This play on words furthers the concept of transient families, a byproduct of globalization and modernization, and the spaces in which they reside. Chen Yujun’s depictions of living spaces are neither Chinese nor Western but an amalgamation of both, a representation of contemporary China. The paintings are emptied of human presence yet are still suggestive of intimate places to viewers, drawing on the artist’s personal life and experiences.
Yuan Yuan is the oldest of the three artists, born in 1973 in Zhejiang Province. His artistic language is influenced by architecture and China’s dramatically changing urban landscapes in second and third-tier cities. Within a few years, these newly constructed buildings are often seen as old and dilapidated. Yuan Yuan dedicates his paintings to these interior and exterior facades that are the remnants of their heyday. The artist depicts an interior, a swimming pool, and the exterior of a building as his ‘landscapes of the mind’. Like Chen Yujun, the facades share both Chinese and Western elements. This nuanced juxtaposition is what makes each scene familiar yet unfamiliar to viewers. Unique to Yuan Yuan is his use of perspective as an integral part of his paintings, through which he creates depth, vertical or horizontal, leading viewers to what is not readily seen or hidden inside.
Unlike Chen Yujun and Yuan Yuan, Huang Yuxing, an artist born in 1975 in Beijing, has chosen nature and the natural world as the subject of his paintings. His consciousness was also shaped by the rapidly changing topography of China's cities. However, instead of focusing on the man-made, Huang Yuxing paints the river, the endlessly flowing water symbolizing time and life. He juxtaposes the river with diamonds or trees with colorful, transparent bubbles, conveying that eternity and an instant can coexist. He often titles his paintings after poems that mirror his own introspection such as “My soul has grown deep like rivers”. In contrast to Chen Yujun and Yuan Yuan who paint with a more subdued palette, Huang Yuxing uses pure non-blended colors. With a neon-infused palette, the artist electrifies the water with bright, bold brushstrokes.
Works by all three artists represent a fixed point in time. The immortalization of a transient moment highlights the quietness that lives within it-as if by stopping time, or by paying tribute to time itself, they can slow down the rapid pace of change that is happening around us.