Critics’ Picks

View of “I Am Your Night,” 2011.


Zhao Yao

Beijing Commune 北京公社
798 Art Zone, No. 4 Jiuxianqiao Road Chaoyang District
June 12–July 31

In “I Am Your Night,” Zhao Yao’s latest exhibition, a series of childishly bright and geometric paintings ironically titled “A Painting of Thought” (all works 2011) mock the profundity of a rising undercurrent of young canvas-favoring Conceptual artists who work in Beijing today. Indeed, many of these artists have shown at the same gallery that Zhao now fills with dripping wire and spiked wood constructions, televisions that come alive at the sound of a tongue clicking, and his so-called “thoughtful” paintings, copied directly from optical teasers and perception puzzles onto tartan cloth. His ugly aesthetic and holistic approach to the gallery represent an almost magical attempt to puncture the sanctity of the exhibition space and demystify the painting process.

He focuses his subversive energies on challenging the validity of painting and confounding viewer expectations. The exhibition envelops visitors like a constructed “situation” in the vein of Guy Debord: Here, amid the tangle of screaming sculptures, critical self-awareness is encapsulated by text spelling out the exclamation AAAH, a single repeated Chinese character that crisscrosses the floor in long diagonals.

Zhao believes in the importance of the artist’s hand, having executed all the works himself, although his coarse technical choices demonstrate a rejection of fine handiwork or painterly processes and their correspondingly complex ideologies. But despite the artist’s attempts to disembowel pretenses, as well as the arbitrary impression made by his assemblage, each work is detailed and precise. As can be seen here, Zhao has slunk into a recognizable style, which has caused more established artists to see his art, as his career ascends, as prestidigitation rather than as a true break with the idea of a personal aesthetic.