Yang Shaobin, Untitled, 2013, oil on canvas, 210 x 280 cm
Due to the great successes the exhibition is prolonged until January 11th. 2014.
He takes his motifs from the world of the media, providing the apparent reality of press photographs a virtually unreal, timeless frame with his compositions and his way of painting. Yang Shaobin (*1963 in Tangshan/Hebei, China), once a pioneer of 'Cynical Realism', but who distanced himself early on from that movement, is today considered the only Chinese painter who has completely liberated himself from the national context. His approach is decidedly contemporary, even when referring to European art history, which he allows to flow into his paintings. Yang's paintings are contemporary history; he brings the world to the canvas.
Alexander Ochs showed work by Yang Shaobin for the first time in 1999, hence the title of the exhibition, the same year the artist received great international recognition at the Venice Biennale curated by Harald Szeeman. Yang's blood-red paintings (in Venice seen alongside the work of Sigmar Polke) were disturbing: they depicted people beaten beyond recognition. Their faces did not reveal realistic exactitude, but a blurry, fluid uncertainty. This uncertainty was able to visualize violence, abuse, disfigurement, and swollen monstrosities much more clearly and impressively that any realism would. This is also true of his later gray and multi-colored works.
In 2010, the UCCA - Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing showed a new contemporareity and a new painterly approach to his themes. In the painting installation Blue Room large format deep blue portraits of politicians were placed alongside anonymous citizens and complemented with astronomic images of Planet Earth. The idea for these blue paintings emerged in the context of the UN Climate Conference a year before. The portraits are all painted in close up, and result with their blue shading in an abstract overall image of melancholy, placing perpetrators and victims opposite one another. The depiction of violence is now quiet and subtle. In Yang's most recent paintings, the depiction of violence has become 'global', as it were.
Yang has continuously maintained his contemporary approach ever since 1999, developing it further. Now he paints differently than in his early, red works: lines and contours are not as blurred, but rather relatively clear. Now as then, he usually works with broad brushstrokes and with a confident gesture. In his most recent works, the artist achieves a reticence with his monochromaticism that seems appropriate for the subject matter. He overlaps several subjects within an image, shifting between positive and negative without admitting any visual depth. With this blue monochromaticism, Yang found a form of representation that is able to amplify the inner power of his images by way of reduction.
The works in this exhibition also explore themes of violence, injustice, and subjugation. Policemen wearing helmets and battle gear as familiar from photographs of the Occupy Wall Street protests, or Chinese coal miners (a motif related to his own background), whose working conditions Yang already explored in his earlier work. Yang combines depictions of police violence with motifs of Italian women portraits from the early Baroque period; the faces that in mannerism express vulnerability become allegories of oppression in the midst of the oppressors. The fighter presents himself in quite a different way, crossing a 'red line', armed and in a simultaneously defensive and aggressive pose, apparently all-too-resolute.
Yang Shaobin's paintings illustrate social problems in a direct or subtle way social and possible responses, but without being too blatant or limiting itself to the Chinese situation. The timelessness of his new compositions finds a powerful contemporaneity in their blue monochromaticism.
Peer Golo Willi
Yang Shaobin's work is currently on view at the exhibition Chinese Expressionism in Shanghai Art Museum and Haw Art Museum, Wenzhou, China, and the 2013 Sharjah Biennale, United Arab Emirates. In addition, the exhibition Blue Room is currently being shown at Arken Museum in Ilshøj near Copenhagen, Denmark.