Critics’ Picks

Yang Fudong, Ms. Huang at M. Last Night, 2006, C-print, 47 1/4 x 71”.


Yang Fudong

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)
2155 Center Street
August 21–December 8, 2013

Getting lost in Chinese artist Yang Fudong’s “Estranged Paradise,” it becomes surprising that this marks the artist’s first midcareer museum survey in the United States. Yang’s work captures the essence of a cool and brooding atmosphere that intimates a certain kind of familiarity. While his videos and photos are a patchwork of old and new ways of living in contemporary China, Yang’s characters emote an apathy prevalent among young people everywhere.

Part of a series of black-and-white snapshots taken during a glamorous night out, Ms. Huang at M. Last Night, 2006, depicts two well-groomed men and a young woman donning an evening gown drinking, smoking, and climbing in and out of limousines. Though the scene is submerged in a glossy vagueness, the characters’ expressions and body language toward one another hint that a sinister subplot lurks. It seems that Yang is often more interested in the foreboding moments just before an event than in the event itself. Similarly, the video City Light, 2000, splices the story of a businessman and his doppelganger, whose mundane life becomes an antiquated spy saga. Cleverly switching from black-and-white to color, City Light also uses traditional Chinese music that turns into a thrilling bossa nova to signal that the action, which is never fully identified, is about to heat up.

That Yang says he oddly did not see a Fellini film until years after studying the director in college, or that a Chinese translation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was not available in China until 1998, tells much about the colorful and cinematic imagination with which his constructed scenarios are imbued. Yang’s portrait of Chinese culture, with Beijing and Shanghai often recognizable in the background, forms a collage rather than a straightforward shot.