Ghostly landscapes wavering on silk, sculpture, and abstract paintings make up Xiaojing Yan’s first solo exhibition in New York. Curated by Lilly Wei, it features a site-specific installation, two unusual portrait busts of a young girl, and a few abstract ink paintings on paper, all from 2016-2020. Some of the materials she uses are surprising even if we are accustomed to contemporary artists’ idiosyncratic, unfettered choices.
Yan (born in Xuzhou City, Jiangsu, China in 1978 and based in Toronto, Canada) straddles two cultures, influenced by both although she is most deeply invested in representations of her native heritage. Her preference is evident in her subject matter, often based on traditional Chinese landscape paintings, aesthetic canons and its ancient folktales, legends, healing treatises, spiritual teachings, and philosophies. Landscape and the concept of place are central to her practice, infused with the émigré’s complicated sense of cultural and psychological bifurcation. Yan left China in her early 20s after graduating with a BFA from Nanjing University of the Arts in 2000. She then earned an MFA in sculpture at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania in 2007, afterwards settling in Toronto where she currently lives and works.
The installation, Mountain of Pines (2017), was inspired by the imagined, impossibly serene landscapes of traditional shan shui (mountain sea) paintings, which emerged in the 5th century and are synonymous for many with Chinese painting.
Yan innovatively, idiosyncratically balances the botanical and the artistic in her work, perhaps most strikingly in a series of remarkable sculptures made from lingzhi mushrooms, Lingzhi Girl, made between 2016-2020, all life-sized, recalling the many Chinese folktales and legends about the its magical properties—healing, long life, and even immortality—that were told to her as a child and remain fascinating to her.
The series Naturally Natural is another instance of Yan’s exploration of collaboration between artist, materials, and chance, a variant on the theme of Lingzhi Girl, using acrylic, Chinese ink, and yupo paper.
Yan’s investigations, in which metaphoric and physical worlds quietly interpenetrate each other, delve into the meaning of spirituality and metamorphoses, as well as raising other questions about being and becoming through the lens of art and nature, art and science, art and culture and their interconnections. Her project is particularly relevant at this moment as the pandemic forced us to rethink so much that we took for granted. It unequivocally showed us nature is far mightier than we are (a fact we sometimes forget), and that we must approach it with the proper respect and care or suffer the catastrophic consequences of our hubris.
Xiaojing Yan’s project is exemplary for these disorienting, unprecedented times. It reminds us that we must live in accord with nature and it, in turn, will supply us with curatives, solutions, what we need. Above all, it reminds us, since we are also nature, that it is imperative to strive to restore and maintain the dynamic and delicate balance that ensures cosmic harmony. Nature will survive without us; we will not survive without its sufferance.
Xiaojing Yan is a Chinese-Canadian artist working both in Canada and China. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including: Suzhou Museum, China; Varley Art Gallery, Markham; Katzman Contemporary, Toronto; Mississauga Art Gallery, Mississauga; Lonsdale Gallery, Toronto; TRUCK Contemporary Art, Calgary; Plug In Contemporary, Winnipeg; and Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey. Public art projects include: Cloudscape in collection for Seneca College at Newnham Campus, Toronto; Moon Gate, commissioned by Jinji Lake Art Museum, Suzhou, China; and Sound of the Rain, recently commissioned by Elora Centre for the Arts. Yan holds an MFA from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, USA.
Lilly Wei (b. Chengdu, China) is a New York-based independent curator, writer, journalist and critic whose area of interest is global contemporary art, in particular emerging art and artists, writing frequently on international exhibitions and biennials. Her work has appeared in dozens of publications world-wide and she is a longtime contributor to Art in America, a contributing editor at ARTnews, and a former contributing editor at Art Asia Pacific in the United States. The author of numerous catalogues and monographs, she has curated exhibitions in the United States, Europe and Asia. Wei lectures frequently on critical and curatorial practices and sits on the board of several not-for-profit art organizations. She has an MA in art history from Columbia University, New York.
New York, New York
About Gallery 456 | Chinese American Arts Council
Gallery 456 is the visual arts exhibition space of the Chinese American Arts Council. Open to the public during office hours and by appointment, over three decades our non-profit gallery has presented works by more than 250 renowned and emerging artists from around the world, with an emphasis on contemporary artists of Chinese heritage. Our 700 square foot gallery presents eight to twelve solo and group shows each year, along with periodic special events and arts-related programming. Our primary mission is to provide a non-commercial NYC exhibition opportunity to contemporary artists of Chinese or other Asian heritage, both local and international. We present works from emerging as well as more established artists representing a range of styles. The gallery is run by CAAC Founder and Director Alan Chow with visual arts programming by Szu-Wei Ho.