This exhibition at the Wellin Museum of Art in New York, by Beijing-born artist Yun-Fei Ji (b 1963) presents 44 scrolls, paintings and drawings created by the artist over the last decade, drawn from major institutions as well as private collections, and new works made specifically for the exhibition. These include a suite of three related scrolls and recent experimental works with elements of three-dimensionality made at the Dieu Donné papermaking workshop, plus 26 new-to-the-public preparatory sketches. The vignettes depict a leering man with a pig’s snout, another in a rumpled suit, a hunchback hag with a snaggle-toothed grin, and a peasant with a jowly frog face, all protagonists in Yun-Fei Ji: The Intimate Universe. Yun-Fei Ji (received his BFA from the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in 1982 and an MFA from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1989.
The exhibition also contains a commissioning project, as well as a loan exhibition. Yun-Fei has created a large-scale, three panel scroll with a special viewing room situated within the exhibition, reached through a moon gate doorway that set within a shallow wall recess that winds horizontally across three walls. On the outside of the scroll room is another exhibition highlight, a 60-foot long scroll entitled The Village and Its Ghosts (2014). This panorama depicts the movement of ghosts, folkloric humans, hucksters, animal hybrids, skeletons and other figures within a classically lined landscape: hundreds of mini-dramas unfold, from a procession of claw footed and insect-like human figures to a young woman hand pollinating a stand of trees in a world where bees are becoming extinct. First seen last year at Prospect.3, in New Orleans, the painting is displayed unframed, also within a recessed channel.
On another large wall are the 26 preparatory sketches, hung in a web-like configuration intended to reflect linkages. Created only recently, they record the movement of the dispossessed in China as a visual cacophony of overturned plastic buckets, bulging garbage bags, fallen branches, gutted cabinets, and upturned chairs dotted by improvised shelters.These new paper works created by Ji in a residency underwritten by the Wellin at Dieu Donné in New York City are evidence the artist’s thinking as he experiments with texture and form and serve as a bridge between The Intimate Universe and a concurrent exhibition Pure Pulp: Contemporary Artists Working in Paper at Dieu Donné.
While the displacement of over a million and a half people due to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River is the basis for one long scroll on view, The Move of the Village Wen (2012), many of the more recent drawings and scrolls featured, including a new series especially created for the Zeno X Gallery in Antwerp, look to other places and times, or to a timelessness, to convey a sense of a world no longer in harmony and a present day that is haunted by ghosts of the past.
‘For more than a decade, Yun-Fei has chronicled the harsh reality of the dispossessed in today’s China employing the idealised tradition of Chinese landscape painting,’ comments Tracy L Adler, director of the Wellin Museum of Art and curator of the exhibition. ‘Today, he is exploring new ground, but still as an artist reimagining storytelling in contemporary terms. Both the intimate scroll gallery and the larger gallery environment are designed to subtly evoke the forms and creative landscape of the Chinese garden design of Suzhou. It is only as the visitor engages with the artwork that other, more difficult, interpretations come into focus,’ continues Adler. Ending, ‘We hope that this exhibition provides a platform for launching a dialogue about the relationship between art, power, politics and the environment’.
Yun-Fei Ji: The Intimate Universe, a major monograph publication with essays by Tracy L Adler and Steven J Goldberg, Associate Professor of Art History at Hamilton College, is planned.
From 6 February to 2 July at the Wellin Museum of Art, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York, www.hamilton.edu/wellin