By PAUL LASTER, August 2023
The group exhibitions “Genesis: A New Generation of Chinese Artists” at Chamber’s Fine Art’s Ai Weiwei-designed Artfarm in Salt Point, NY (July 21 – August 27, 2023) and “A Happy Beginning” at LATITUDE Gallery (July 27 – August 27, 2023), in the heart of New York’s Chinatown, have some notable points in common. Besides having been curated by this scribe, both shows shine a light on a diverse group of talented Chinese artists who have recently completed MFA and BFA degrees or are still studying at some of the best art colleges in America.
Featuring 22 women artists who were born in China and relocated to the United States to pursue their artistic education and careers, Genesis presents a prime selection of paintings, sculptures, fiber art, photography, glass art and works on paper by Yuxuan An, Ye Cheng, Leyla (Runzi) Cui, Zhi Ding, Lanyi Gao, Shuling Guo, Sihan Guo, Jess Xiaoyi Han, Jingyao Huang, Katinka Huang, Peishan Huang, Tinglan Huang, Nianxin Li, Yingyao Liang, Tiantian Ma, Ellie Kayu Ng, Jingqi Wang Steinhiser, Ming Wang, Angela Wei, Youyi Echo Yan, Shuai Yang, and Tianshu Zhang—with one outstanding work by each artist on view in the show.
Debuting at the expansive Artfarm during Upstate Art Weekend, the lively show features small- to large-scale works, which are both figurative and abstract. Ye Cheng, Shuling Guo, Sihan Guo, Jess Xiaoyi Han, Tiantian Ma and Tianshu Zhang paint highly expressive, spiritual abstractions, with the latter two artists mixing figurative elements into their painterly fields. Working just figuratively on canvas Zhi Ding, Ellie Kayu Ng, Jingqi Wang Steinhiser, Ming Wang and Angela Wei construct absorbing visual narratives, which alternate between being dreamlike and emblematic. Relatedly Katinka Huang, Nianxin Li and Yingyao Liang mine the psychological and surreal in their imaginative paintings, while Lanyi Gao connects a pop reference with a philosophical phrase to make a feminist statement.
Beyond the realm of painting, Yuxuan An constructs a wall of handmade glass bricks bearing the twelve principles of Xi Jinping’s core social values; Leyla (Runzi) Cui creates a poetic, mixed-media piece that marvelously mingles painting and drawing with sculpture and collage; Jingyao Huang constructs an architectural model for a futuristic building out of colored and clear readymade plastic materials; Peishan Huang stages photographic self-portraits with her shadow and artificial plants and found furniture in an abandoned space; Tinglan Huang weaves a realist vision of the interior of her Brooklyn apartment; Shuai Yang constructs a big paper figure from hundreds of small ones; and Youyi Echo Yan builds a deteriorated seaman’s coffin, eerily sized to her own physical proportions.
In 2003, I organized “The Inverse Mirror,” an exhibition featuring an earlier generation of Chinese artists living in New York at Chambers Fine Art, when it was located in Chelsea. The two current exhibitions—taking place 20 years later—bring some of the same conceptual concerns and aesthetic styles explored in that five-artist show (Cai Jin, David Diao, Zhao Gang, Richard Tsao and Zhang Hongtu) into the present realm. Always on the lookout for the new, I was introduced to many of these emerging Chinese artists by Shihui Zhou, owner and director of LATITUDE Gallery; Sean Zhang, a recent NYU Visual Arts Administration grad, who was interning at David Zwirner when we met; Echo He, a millinery artist and the founder and director of Fou Gallery, a creative lab in Brooklyn; and Azure Qi Zhou and Jeffrey Ziyu Liu at Stilllife, a next-Gen art community focused on emerging artists and founded by Asian artists, curators, collectors and advisors.
“A Happy Beginning” at LATITUDE Gallery features many of the same artists in the Artfarm show, plus a few other painters who were recently exhibited or newly discovered by the gallerist. Presenting a fine fusion of paintings, sculptures, photographs, works on paper and performance art by Yuxuan An, Leyla (Runzi) Cui, Zhi Ding, Danmo Fu, Lanyi Gao, Shuling Guo, Jingyao Huang, Katinka Huang, Peishan Huang, Timon Yc I, Nianxin Li, Yanjun Li, Tiantian Ma, Ellie Kayu Ng, Jingqi Wang Steinhiser, Yongqi Tang, Li Wang, Ming Wang, Suyi Xu, Youyi Echo Yan, Shuai Yang, Tianshu Zhang and Ji Zou, the show includes young artists who were born in China and Chinese-American artists from the diaspora.
There are three male and three female painters in the LATITUDE show who aren’t participating in the Artfarm exhibition, and a few of the artists have more than one piece in the show. Amongst the new faces here, Danmo Fu has a figurative canvas that reproduces watches overlaying figures of peasant workers, inspired by a Francisco Goya masterpiece, and another painting with tools, masks and gloves in multitude, metaphorically representing masculinity. Timon Yc I presents a painting of an escalator leading into a tunnel, which is rendered like a forest or network of veins to convey a heady, psychological scene, while Suyi Xu paints a more classical picture of a staircase leading into a cathedral-like structure, defined by an architecture of arches.
Painting more abstractly, Yanjun Li layers transparent colors and forms, which look like melting plastic or dissolving ice—yet at the same time, evoking something more esoteric. Equally mysterious, Ji Zou paints a dreamlike female figure contemplating her distorted reflection in a folding mirror, while going back to an art historical reference Yongqi Tang depicts a reclining figure posed like Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna’s “Dead Christ,” but her subject is an artist with brushes and palette in hand. And Li Wang paints a self-portrait of a young man who just wants to have fun, as he sips a drink in a bar with an unseen friend. Finally, instead of a sculpture in this section of the curatorial diptych, Yuxuan An performs a weekly ritualistic act, in the form of a protest against capitalism, by passing out chives and propaganda while dressed in a colorful, hand-knitted costume that veils her identity.
Inspired by styles and ideas from China’s rich cultural past, as well as being informed by its robust contemporary art scene, this new generation of artists brings an awareness of the international art world that’s informed by the Internet, and particularly by the changing forms of art that flow through Instagram and other social media sites. Works in the show mine memories and dreams, explore spiritualism and architectural space, investigate issues of identity and the roles they play in society and draw attention to visual spectacles and sensations of light. Working both figuratively and abstractly or blurring the boundaries between the two artistic approaches, these artists are creating compelling works, which are convincingly adding to our evolving contemporary art dialogue.
And even though I have covered the Asian art scene for ArtAsiaPacific, Ocula, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Time Out New York, Whitehot Magazine, Artkrush, Art in America, Modern Painters and Artnet and organized numerous shows with work by Asian artists over the past 25 years, there’s always more to learn. This group of artists and advisors made me realize that there is an amazing Asian art scene happening now—that there is a zeitgeist taking place, and through my research, I was able to see that New York is at the heart of it. WM
A panel talk with exhibition curator Paul Laster and artists Danmo Fu, Ellie Kayu Ng and Shuai Yang will take place at LATITUDE Gallery, Thursday, August 24, 6-8 pm.
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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