Realism by Yan Xing (part of 5 Solo Shows: Yan Xing, Christian Schoeler, Li Gang, Hu Qingyan and Cheng Ran)
Galerie Urs Meile, Caochangdi, Beijing, China
3 September – 23 October, 2011
Presenting five solo shows at once in their Beijing spaces seems an odd approach by Galerie Urs Meile. They state that it provides a way to present a selection of new works by some of their less established artists, and I expect it avoids the difficulty of finding an overarching theme for a group show. But in this case it seems each artist gets short shrift, without the opportunity to present a sufficient body of work to allow for more than a very basic understanding of their practice. Christian Schoeler perhaps gets the best out of this arrangement, with a large room for his technically competent paintings. On the other hand, Cheng Ran is insufficiently represented with only a single video work. I understand this fascinating artist will be having a major solo show at this same gallery later in the year, which begs the question: why include him now in a way that does this him little justice?
Putting these questions aside, it’s fortunate that 5 Solo Shows gives the opportunity to see the work of another very strong artist, Yan Xing. Yan Xing is an interesting character. As an openly gay man he lives in a country (if not a world) that tends to frown upon (if not actively suppress) displays of sexuality that are deemed outside of the norm. He maintains a personal blog of articulate and up-front missives about his life and thoughts and has become something of a minor celebrity within the online universe in China. His outspoken comments have positioned him as something of an informal representative for gay life in this country.
A quote by the painter Leon Golub, from Talking Art, a collection of interviews previously published in the UK’s excellent Art Monthly magazine. I like his characterisation of art as, in one way, some kind of sponge, which imprints itself with modern life, or is forced to be imprinted with it:
As far as I’m concerned, Modernism is the art of the modern world. That means that it is a world of relativity, of simultaneity and advanced media transmissions. The world of abstraction, but not the way the abstract artist thought of it, of condensations where essential material comes from all directions and gets condensed in unique formats, like thought-clusters. In other words, the big traditions of the past become pierced, porous, infected with other material; accretions are added to them and have their own peculiar condensations. I come to it from the fact that modern communications, habits of thinking, political events, mass societies, force us to have these kinds of conceptualisations. In art, to perceive anything that is going on in the modern world, you can’t have a narrow, realistic point of view. You have to be aware how peculiarly opaque and transparent all this material is. It is porous and yet over-determined, all at the same time. So it’s from those kinds of logics that I view myself a modernist.1
Later he says: “I want these paintings, if possible, to be open to the types of things that go on today. I want them to be open and porous because porous things absorb in an irregular fashion. I want the canvas surface itself to absorb all sorts of flickering fluctuations in phenomena that inflict themselves upon the surface between the spots and dashes and the glances.”2
Golub, Leon (1985). The imag(in)ing of power. Interviewed by: Bird, Jon. In Bickers, Patricia and Wilson, Andrew, eds. Talking Art: Interviews with artists since 1976. London: Ridinghouse 2007, p.234.