Critics’ Picks

Yang Yongliang, Heavenly City 1, 2008, ink-jet print, 37 x 79".

Yang Yongliang, Heavenly City 1, 2008, ink-jet print, 37 x 79".

Melbourne

Yang Yongliang

fortyfivedownstairs
45 Flinders Lane
April 14–April 25, 2009

Yang Yongliang’s eccentric prints, presented in this exhibition by Chinese Contemporary Art Consultants, are photographic composites that depict agglomerations of skyscrapers, railways, radio towers, power lines, and freeways. These futuristic architectural vignettes look as though they’ve been painstakingly assembled from an urban planner’s photographic archive of developers’ projects in Yang’s hometown, Shanghai. But the thousands of buildings here are digitally stitched together into their opposite: Panoramic black-and-white views of mountains, streams, and oceans that look at a distance just like traditional Chinese shan shui (mountain-water) ink paintings. The works both cite and rely on their traditional landscape models.

In Heavenly City 1, 2008, gargantuan waterfalls dwarf Piranesian office and apartment complexes. In Eclipse, 2008, a stupendously large, grotesque, rocky crag rising from an equally impossible ocean is composed of what look like architectural models. Yang’s works confront viewers with an excess of information: The photographic sources demand that the images be read as potentially real, but the anthill effect is convincing only up to a point, since the swaths of almost identical buildings and power pylons tend to look like digitally generated clones. I suspect this effect is as much a part of the artist’s point as the kitsch, saccharine glamour of the works, for as classical landscape compositions these are only just adequate. These images need us to recognize the cultural authority to which they defer, and the result is that Yang’s outsize prints cleverly have it both ways: They look like tourist art but amaze on account of the termite dedication with which the artist assembles his images. The success of Yang’s works, which manage to be fascinating but repulsive, hinges on the decay that he manages to locate in both his revered shan shui models and the new urban cityscapes by which he is so mesmerized.