“The Yan Pei-Ming Show”

A solo exhibition that involved other artists, “The Yan Pei-Ming Show” was the work of several hands, featuring contributions by Piotr Uklanski and Huang Yong Ping under the direction of Chinese painter Yan Pei-Ming. It was like a TV show with guests in the studio and a host overseeing the various phases of the program. One entered the first space of the gallery by passing through a small opening, as if coming in from behind the scenes. This sense that one was walking onstage must have been a deliberate effect, since Yan chose to place the rear facade of a small temporary structure precisely where the main entrance should be. This structure was part of Marché de Punya (all works 2007), which features lifelike sculptures of an elephant and a dog adjacent to an Eastern-style stall meticulously reconstructed by Huang, containing packages of incense, simply crafted statuettes, candles, and small talismans, among other things—a veritable repertory of stereotypical Chinese kitsch.

The disproportion of scale between the shop and the gigantic fallen animal on the ground was a surprise effect characteristic of this show, in the work of all three artists. And despite the obvious impossibility of the depicted situation, both the animals and the small Eastern emporium, together, seemed like the materialization of a vision that might be unreal yet is also entirely credible. Bruce Lee, a huge painting by Yan depicting the iconic martial-arts actor, further reinforced the sensation of dislocation between reality and fiction.

If the more modest scale of the works in the second space of the gallery seemed to give the show a more measured tone, the irony of the expressive language and the chosen subjects kept the tension level extremely high. Yan’s triptych Madonna con Santi (Madonna with Saints) shows the Virgin flanked by Yan himself and Maurizio Cattelan, another artist associated with Massimo De Carlo, depicted as new, postmodern saints. Meanwhile, Uklanski’s Untitled Yan Pei-Ming, a photographic portrait, shows the subject’s features altered by various distortions.

The upper floor of the gallery contained Last Emperor—Pu Yi, a gigantic portrait by Yan of the last monarch of the Qing dynasty, symbol of the defeat of modern man, as well as several large-scale paintings on the theme of death. It is no accident that Yan’s chromatic palette has grown increasingly lighter, approaching white—the color that, in Eastern tradition, is associated with mourning. In this pale, somber room, the show reached its conclusion.

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.