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Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber Ocula Report Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber 15 Mar 2019 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

In Meiro Koizumi's three-channel video installation, The Angels of Testimony (2019), the central frame features an interview with Hajime Kondo about his time as a solider of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conversation centres on war crimes perpetrated in China, including the beheading of Chinese prisoners for...

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Diana Campbell Betancourt Ocula Conversation Diana Campbell Betancourt

Diana Campbell Betancourt is a curator working predominantly across South and Southeast Asia. Since 2013 she has been the founding artistic director of the Samdani Art Foundation and chief curator of the Dhaka Art Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a transnational art event that has grown in size and scale ever since its first edition in 2012. Backed by...

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Chinternet Ugly at Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art Ocula Report Chinternet Ugly at Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art 7 Mar 2019 : Mike Pinnington for Ocula

China, home to 802 million internet users, is subject to sophisticated online censorship. This shrouded state of affairs, unsurprisingly perhaps, serves to reinforce stereotypes around conformity elsewhere. Any realm, digital or otherwise, subject to such strict scrutiny must necessarily be bland and uncritical, right? I was mulling over such...

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Yuan Yuan

b. 1973, China

Yuan Yuan is a Chinese artist known for eerie, realistic paintings of derelict, abandoned interiors. Born in Zhejiang province, he studied oil painting at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, graduating with a BFA in 1996 and an MFA in 2008. The Academy was an influential institution for Chinese modern art, as its founder Lin Fengmian sought to reinvigorate Chinese painting with foreign influences. In contrast to the closed conservative nature of Chinese society at the time, students such as Yuan had their eyes opened to Western influences through what they were taught, as well as the numerous foreign periodicals available in the library.

In a detached, highly realistic style, the artist portrays run-down or abandoned architecture, from derelict industrial spaces, civic buildings and apartment blocks, to decaying grand halls, palaces, hotels and ocean liners. The artist, who is meticulous by nature, carefully and deliberately works up every little detail. In most of his images the atmosphere seems damp and humid, as is characteristic of Yuan's native Hangzhou. There is also a sense of melancholy and claustrophobia. Enclosed spaces—including small rooms, narrow alleyways, old apartment block stairwells and subterranean tunnels—feature heavily in his recent work.

The full scope of this artist's subject matter can range from an entire room or corridor to a single element that piques his interest. Yuan is particularly fascinated by the tile and mosaic patterns on walls and floors, lining pools and showers. In paintings such as Swimming Pool (2011) and Castle (2011) they are the sole subject, with all nearby elements cropped out. Windows, too, are a point of intrigue, whether in the haunting stained glass windows of Flow III (2011) or the industrial skylights of Elgin Station (2012). In 2012 the artist produced a series of oil paintings featuring lone windows. Some, such as Calm Weather (2012) and Rearwindow I (2012), present a perspective looking out from the interior while in others, such as Cottage Window II (2012), the perspective looks in.

Yuan's imagery is mostly based on real places. However, blurring the lines between illusion and reality, Yuan sometimes adds imaginary elements, manipulates certain details or merges elements of different places to create a new composite space. He prefers to create his own systems of spatial arrangement, developing a highly structured and ordered image according to the geometric details of the architecture.

Yuan cites the influence of several Western artists in his work. He admires British land artist Richard Long's ability to go where others cannot, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres' introduction of private sentiments into public consciousness. Alongside these foreign influences, however, aspects of traditional Chinese painting can be found. He creates the effect of wet surfaces by applying multiple layers of diluted pigment—a technique used in classical Chinese painting.

The artist's fascination with dereliction stems from his interest in connecting the individual and the collective with notions of time and change. Abandoned places, to Yuan, are secure and free from the pressures of living. At the same time, they are public spaces that anyone can enter and visit. It is not so much their state of decay that interests the artist as the residual traces of what they used to be, and the histories, both private and public, they contain. In scenes devoid of human figures, people are represented by signs of activity. This is done very intimately in Untitled (Bedroom) (2012), Privacy (2016) and Shared Dream (2016) with disturbed bedding, clothes and other personal belongings flung about the small rooms to indicate the transient presence of their occupants.

By offering a fleeting glimpse of an abandoned place's former glory, Yuan conveys a sense of passing time. This invisible subject is a particular fascination, given Chinese society is in the midst of a transition to new patterns of living while still engaged in ancient traditions.

Yuan had his first solo exhibition, The Blind Man and The Elephant, at Xiaoping Gallery, Shanghai, in 2008. The following year he painted Youth Union For Over-seas Chinese, one of his few works to feature human figures. In the image people (rendered in colour) occupy the foreground while behind them youths (in black and white) are shown diving into a swimming pool, collapsing past and present tenses together.

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2017
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Featured Artworks

Cottage Window I by Yuan Yuan contemporary artwork Yuan YuanCottage Window I, 2012 Oil on canvas
125 x 85 cm
Cottage Window I by Yuan Yuan contemporary artwork Yuan YuanCottage Window I, 2012 Oil painting,
125 x 85 cm

Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Group Show, Works by Yang Zhenzhong, Ding Yi, Yu Youhan and Others  at ShanghART, Beijing
4 July–18 August 2013 Group Show Works by Yang Zhenzhong, Ding Yi, Yu Youhan and Others ShanghART, Beijing

Represented By

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There's never before been an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art of this magnitude: Eight cities, nine museums, 120 artists, 500 works. For audiences in Germany, the question is on the tip of their tongues: Just how much influence did Chinese officials play in the making of "China 8," which opens to the public on May 14 and...

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