The World of Yu Hong

Installation View of Yu Hong: The World of Saha
Installation View of Yu Hong: The World of Saha
Installation View of Yu Hong: The World of Saha
Yu Hong, Youth May Get Confused, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 225x270cm
Yu Hong, Half Hundred Mirrors No. 9, 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 120x100cm.
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Yu Hong renders an exquisite narrative with The World of Saha, her most recent exhibition currently on view at The Long Museum in Shanghai, demonstrating the unparalleled talent and growing recognition of female artists in China.

Text: Leigh Tanner
Images: Courtesy of The Long Museum and the artist.

Installation View of Yu Hong: The World of Saha
Installation View of Yu Hong: The World of Saha
Installation View of Yu Hong: The World of Saha

 

Curated by Jérôme Sans, Yu Hong: The World of Saha is “more than a retrospective”, as the show is “envisioned as an ‘introspective’ into her unique and wide-ranging vocabulary.” Impressive in scale, the paintings that line the cavernous Long Museum invigorate the space, illuminating the artist’s ability to create a sense of whimsy rooted within a global contemporary context. The interplay of the real and surreal in Yu Hong’s work is even more striking in the embrace of the sloping curves of the museum’s central hall under which her subjects toil across multiple-panel paintings. In other parts of the museum, the mostly female figures that feature centrally in Yu Hong’s portraits assert themselves in a variety of ways, often poignantly through a painterly rendering within the realm of a VR headset as in She’s Already Gone and Half-Hundred Mirrors. The ‘introspective’ is divided into four chapters: “Time of Rebirth,” “Portraits,” “Half-Hundred Mirrors,” and “Witness to Growth.”

The World of Saha is compelling for its ability to demonstrate the sense of both the mundane and the surreal that runs through Yu Hong’s work. Complimenting her painting practice with her VR works, which quite literally allow visitors inside the artist’s world, emphasizes interior reflection that is so intrinsic to her practice. The exhibition is also unique in that Yu Hong drew figures directly on the walls for the first time, creating a few intimate and loose portraits between the formalized borders of the painted canvases. Responding to an urge to, in her own words, “breathe life into the space and to draw in a way that was more relaxed and intuitive,” she hopes to have the opportunity to utilize this technique again in the future.

Trained at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing where she took up a post teaching oil painting in 1988, Yu Hong has leveraged her background in Realist painting into a unique visual vocabulary combining both Eastern and Western cultural references. In fact, the title The World of Saha is a reference to a Buddhist expression that reflects the suffering of living things or “the world to be endured.” This is especially relevant to Yu Hong’s practice as it connects the mystical calamity often depicted in her large-scale paintings such as Heaven on Earth to the resilience of portrait subjects who have born witness to the social, cultural and political transformation of China in recent decades. The exhibition follows her solo presentations Garden of Dreams at the CAFA Art Museum, Beijing in 2016 and Golden Sky at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing in 2010 as well as her recent inclusion in Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2017.

 

Yu Hong, Youth May Get Confused, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 225x270cm
Yu Hong, Half Hundred Mirrors No. 9, 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 120x100cm.

 

It is hard to miss the presence of a multitude of women all over the space, whether representations of the artist herself, her daughter, friends or figures from newspaper clippings. Witness to Growth, the final chapter of the exhibition and also an ongoing series of paintings Yu initiated in 1999, features the intersection of the life events of the artist, her daughter and the world at large. Working from photographs, Yu’s yearly portraits and depictions of real-world events narrate a history which centers her role as a mother amidst the milestones and quotidian details of her and her daughter’s personal evolution and the frames drawn from front page news. Becoming a mother had a huge impact on Yu’s work and having a daughter is a central and ongoing influence in Yu’s practice. In the series, she “gives new weight to women’s destinies in the construction of history” as the wall text explains.

In much of her work, Yu Hong mines her own experiences and has continuously presented the details of women’s everyday lives. Witnessing not only the transformation of her country, but also that of the Chinese art world, when asked about the effect the growth of the Chinese art market has had on the status of women in the art field, Yu responded,

“Obviously the development of the art market has had a large impact on woman in art. It has allowed the work of woman artists to be seen and to be paid attention to. And yet, in art circles, relatively speaking, there seem to be more woman artists than woman critics or women curators. Woman artists seem to have more opportunities to present their work as compared to women in other art professions. I personally would love to see the emergence of more female critics and curators. In the younger generation there are certainly more, but in my generation, there are not many at all and even female museum directors are few in number. For this exhibition at Long Museum, it was great to collaborate with such an outstanding female museum director as Wang Wei.”

In considering the future of woman artists in China, Yu Hong expressed optimism: “I think there will be better and better opportunities and exposure for woman artists in China going forward.  But at the same time, woman artists will have to solve their own problems, be braver and take on more responsibility, tackling their own challenges and difficulties, in art and in life.”

 

 

Yu Hong, “The World of Saha”
March 9th to May 5th, 2019
Long Museum West Bund

 

 

About the artist

Yu Hong was born in Xi’an, China in 1966. He studied oil painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in the 1980s. In 1996, he graduated from the Oil Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Since 1988, he has taught at the Oil Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Yu Hong initially accepted the training of realistic painting techniques, and later developed his unique visual language. The core of Yu Hong’s works has always been “humanity” and how people grow and survive in this society and the world. The characters below express their concern and personal analysis into the reality and society.

Yu Hong’s recent solo exhibitions include: “Amazing Dreams in the Garden” (Central Academy of Fine Arts, 2016), “Parallel World” (Suzhou Art Museum, 2015), “Golden World” (Shanghai Art Museum, 2011), and “Golden Tianjing” (Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 2010). At the same time, Yu Hong participated in the group exhibition “Art after the 1989 and China: World Theater” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2017.

 


About the curator

Jerome Sans, curator, art critic, artistic director and director of several well-known institutions. Jerome Sanz was one of the founders and principals of the Tokyo Palace Art Center in Paris, France (1999-2006), and then worked as a project director at the BALTIC Contemporary Art Center in Newcastle, England until 2008. From 2008 to 2012, Jerome Sans served as curator of the Ullens Art Center in Beijing. He has curated several important global art events, such as the 2000 Taipei Biennale, the 2005 Lyon Biennale, and the 2006 Paris White Nights Festival. Jerome Sans has books on Daniel Buren, Araki Sugi, Dialogue with China: Jerome Sans Interview with 32 Contemporary Artists, and China: A New Generation. Jerome Sans is the artistic director of major urban public art projects such as “The River Saône” (Lyon, France) and “Big Paris Express” (2015-2017), and was recently appointed as the Greater Paris Region, France. Artistic Director of the Future Cultural Center in Seguin.

 

 


 

Leigh Tanner completed her BA in Art History from Stanford University and MA in Critical and Curatorial Studies from Columbia University. She has previously worked in the Research and Exhibitions Departments of the Shanghai Project, an interdisciplinary ideas platform launched in 2016 at the Shanghai Himalayas Museum.

Her time at the Shanghai Project as well as earlier experiences in the curatorial departments of the International Center of Photography and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, have led her to believe passionately in the importance of institutions and to found Museum 2050, a platform for exploring the future of museums through the lens of China. She is currently an independent curator based in Shanghai.

 

 

 
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