Critics’ Picks

Yan Lei, Rêverie, 2015, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Yan Lei, Rêverie, 2015, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Yan Lei

Red Brick Art Museum 红砖美术馆
Hegezhuang, Cuigezhuang Village Chaoyang District
April 25–July 15, 2015

In 1997, Yan Lei quite literally made a name for himself in the art world as Mr. Ielnay Oahgnoh, a pseudonym derived by reversing the name of the artist and that of his coconspirator Hong Hao. This mysterious Mr. Oahgnoh mailed out over a hundred invitations to participate in Documenta to a sizable chunk of the Chinese art community, in an action later known as Invitation Letter, 1997. Fifteen years later, Yan Lei himself was asked to show at Documenta 13, where he further scorned the conceit of the “successful artist” with the Limited Art Project, 2012: a salon-style hanging of 377 oil paintings executed by amateur artists, who embellished upon digitally printed canvases. Each day, a handful of the works would be sent to the nearby Volkswagen factory, where their surfaces were coated in car paint. The freshly monochromed canvases would then be returned to the exhibition.

If Limited Art Project questioned the distinctions between artmaking and other forms of production, this retrospective presentation makes the equation of art and manufactured goods shamelessly explicit. Those monochrome canvases are here hung salon style along two long corridors flanking a central gallery where a massive carousel of two overhead conveyor belts slowly rotates an additional selection of paintings while a series of car parts occupies the wall space in an installation titled Rêverie, 2015. If, as Yan claims, art-making benefits from its own industrialization, then the assembly line should be welcomed as an evolutionary step. But given the Chinese art scene’s functioning examples of this model (think Dafen Oil Painting Village) and the artist’s own acerbic humor, Yan’s thesis itself may be just another deliberately amateur copy.