Four Contemporary Chinese Artists Paint Empty Rooms and Uncanny Objects

Tang Yongxiang, one of the artists in Klein Sun Gallery’s latest exhibition “Inside-Outside”, once said of his work, “However you may paint it (an object), it will never quite be enough,” referring to his abstract-figurative style wherein faces are left unpainted, objects unfinished. He seems to suggest that painting something realistically does not get to the truth of it; the truth lies somewhere else. Explorations of truth and representation run through all of the works in the show, along with studies of domestic space and notions of modernity. 

Yongxiang contributes a series of five paintings to the show; all feature pale turquoises and indigos, muted by washes of white. In these works, the artist experiments with constructing and deconstructing elements, producing wildly different variations on a theme. Concave Painting (2014), the most detailed of the five,shows a painting within a painting: set against a Rothko-like blue background is a concave frame, inside of which the image of a woman is draped in white fabric; in the middle of the painting is an oval blotted with blue paint. Soundly Sleeping Woman with Green and Sleeping Portrait (both 2014) riff on Concave Painting, showing the same sleeping woman but with its components tweaked, and elements added and subtracted. Concave Frame and Two Linked Profiles (2014) are renditions of the first painting, retaining its stylistic aura and palette, but operating on entirely new aesthetic wavelengths.

Lu Zhengyuan’s “Subtleties of Creation” paintings (both 2014) show a wax peach with a green foil leaf painted in extremely realistic detail, hovering before a gradient blue-cream background. The images are framed in intricately molded resin. Peaches represent immortality or a long life in Chinese culture. Zhengyuan’s portrayal cuts through this notion in his doubly detached depiction: his peach is a representation of a representation. It looks incredibly real, like you could pluck it off the canvas—and yet it is entirely artificial.

Huang Yishan’s paintings portray bleak, modern spaces. Generic wall coverings (tile, white wainscoting) are juxtaposed inelegantly to form rooms, evoking hospitals, bathrooms, and other clinical locations. Blue and Green Space and Bathing (both 2014) show a frosted window with an obscured figure behind it, a vague suggestion of life beyond the clinical realm. In Refrigerator (2014), a domestic scene is sapped of life; a typically innocuous object, associated with home and nourishment, is here an unsettling presence, like a Robert Gober sink.

Chen Yujun’s paintings of domestic interiors are similarly emptied of life. In each, a lone piece of furniture is the only object shown against striped walls. The color and style of the rooms is generically modern, and in both paintings the exact function of the furniture is hard to place—in Temporary Home No. 1 (2014), the object depicted could be a bathroom vanity or a nightstand, and in Temporary Home No. 2 (2014) it could be a bench or an ottoman. Their ambiguity renders these spaces uncanny, and ever-so-slightly unnerving.

—M. A. Wholey 

Inside-Outside” is on view at Klein Sun Gallery, New York, Nov. 6, 2014–Jan. 3, 2015. 

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