Critics’ Picks

Meng Yangyang, Sitting Girl, 2008, oil on canvas, 71 x 79".

Meng Yangyang, Sitting Girl, 2008, oil on canvas, 71 x 79".


“Portrait of the Youth”

J & Z Gallery
101 Bldg F1, OCT-Loft, Enping Rd
June 20–August 23, 2009

“Portrait of the Youth” presents four young and steadily emerging Asian artists whose diversified approaches to portraiture converge in one captivating show. Using varied media and methods, this quartet explore the portrait, not only as a traditional form of representation or indicator of the artist’s own sentiments and beliefs but also as a portrayal of generational angst. In many works, anonymous sitters are not subjects so much as sites for the artist’s collation of concepts, psyche, and technique.

In Taiwanese artist Tseng Yu-Chin’s ambient video installation, nine channels of manipulated photographic stills line an entire room of the gallery. A soft, piano-infused sound track drives darkened, abstracted images of children hiding under their beds or in closets. The piece conveys a sense of a frightening dream or sinister fairy tale. Kids playing in their bedrooms doesn’t seem to be the subject of the piece as much as a package to enclose the artist’s own inhibitions. Meng Yangyang’s paintings of children, depicted with bold post-Impressionist flair, also reveal a menacing sense of preadolescence. In an adjacent room, an arrangement of Shen Wei’s virtuosic photographic portraits, each bathed in a consistent, classical light, quietly offers an altogether different mood. Here, unclothed sitters lie or perch on beds, staring off frame or at the viewer as if indifferently acknowledging a guest in their soft, private spaces.

The meat of the show, literally, is found in Zhang Ding’s ambitious installation, The Aircraft Meal for a Secret Family, 2009. Everything from plants and trees to a roast suckling pig to a medley of sculpted figures made from spray-foam insulation becomes a player in this rising Chinese art star’s demented opera. The portrait in this case is a fantastic feast abandoned by its petrified guests.