Opening on May 14, 2007, David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by Chinese artist Yan PeiMing, who divides his time between Shanghai, China and Dijon, France. In 2006, Yan Pei-Ming was the subject of a oneperson exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Saint-Étienne, France. He had solo exhibitions at the Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China; Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China (both 2005); Kunsthalle Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany (2004); Fils du Dragon, Portraits chinois, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, France; Portraits de Mao, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie, Besançon, France; and Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, Switzerland (all 2003). The artist's many prestigious group exhibitions include The Unhomely, Phantom Scenes in Global Society, 2nd Biennale International of Contemporary Art, Seville, Spain (2006); A propos du Lingchi (supplice des cents morceaux), with Huang Yong-Ping, Musée Denon, Chalon-sur-Saône, France; Moi–Autoportraits du XXe siècle, Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, France (both 2004); New Zone–Chinese Art, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland (2003); the Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy (2003 and 1995); and Lyon Biennial, Lyon France (2000 and 1997). This will be Yan Pei-Ming's first exhibition in New York.
Best known for his larger-than-life self portraits, as well as paintings of political and cultural icons such as Mao Tse-Tung and Bruce Lee, Yan Pei-Ming has emerged in recent years as one of the most dynamic and experimental Chinese painters. Before moving from his native Shanghai to France in 1980, Yan Pei-Ming painted landscapes and portraits of peasant workers. Since then, his subjects have included anonymous figures, his father, Buddha, and a series of prostitutes, all concurrent with an on-going body of self-portraits. Although the genre of portraiture is not commonly encountered in Chinese art, it manifests with both Eastern and Western sensibilities in Yan Pei-Ming's works. His expressive style and controlled palette reflect a connection to the aesthetic and cultural climate of China as well as the influence of 20th-century American conceptual art. His canvases are typically mono- or bi-chromatic and painted with large brushes (sometimes a broom), in either black and white or deep shades of red. With a mastered economy of marks, he delineates his compositions with broad, sweeping gestures and visible drips, resulting in images that dissolve into near-abstraction at close view.
For this exhibition, Yan Pei-Ming has created two new self portraits in oil–one red and one black, each 11 x 11 feet–and several large-scale watercolors; each approximately 5 by 9 feet. Yan Pei-Ming’s works on paper show his mastery of light and shadow (he studied with a traditional Chinese calligraphist) and continue the conceptual investigations of his paintings: metaphysics, everyday life, and death. Much like his Mao Tse-Tung portraits, which recontextualized Mao’s iconic stature as a bridge between Western and Chinese culture, the artist’s newest subjects have cross-cultural relevance. Functioning as portraits within portraits, American Dollars (2007) comprises six watercolors of paper bills (each with its corresponding American President) in denominations of one to one hundred. Installed in a grid, they are imposing at nearly 15 feet high. In several of the works, the artist shows his subject repeated, side-by-side; among them is Double (Hou Hanru) (2007), two slightly different portraits of the renowned curator. In Double (Americans) (2007), two soldiers are in uniform against the American flag. Double (Self-portrait at the Morgue) (2006) depicts the artist dead, eyes closed, a subject he has returned to several times over the course of his career. In all of the works, Yan Pei-Ming's fluid yet precise technique, use of repetition, and shallow pictorial space infuse his images with an eerie morbidity, thus reinforcing their connection to real, indescribable, events.