Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Exhibitions: Yang Fudong at Marian Goodman, NYC

Yang Fudong is one of the most visionary artist to have come out of China in memory. An icon, a master, whatever—he is hailed. But he has stayed very much resident in China, as if his goal is to devote his life to the exploration of his own people, the Chinese ideas, the mystery and majesty that defines his birthplace. He understood that this cannot be done from a distance, that he must remain, observe, ponder, and synthesize that which he has experienced in order to arrive at something of meaning worthy of an artistic contribution.

In his latest show, East of Que Village, 2007, Fudong has reached his mark. This touchingly transcendent exhibition exposes a China far off the beaten path in some ways, but in a deeper way, not so far at all. Fudong knows that what is really to be appreciated about China is the fact that even in the midst of a billion residents, there is an enormous, palpable isolation and chill that pervades everything: the landscape, the buildings, the institutions, and the people. They are lonely in a way that perhaps can only occur because they are so absolutely surrounded by others. It is one of life’s greatest ironies, and one that Yang Fudong appreciated and managed to capture in this deeply compelling, rich array of photographs.

The works have dogs as their subjects. Dogs wander the landscape, in search. In search of what is not clear, but that is another of the ironies displayed resplendently in Fudong’s depictions. In the dogs’ eyes is another perspective on China, one that underscores the frigidity that encapsulates the culture with an edge bordering on soullessness. Here dogs wander a junk heap in clouds of smoke, there a solitary dog ambles down a long, barren road. The quality of the photographs, although superb, is irrelevant, so strongly infused is each with the emotion of non-emotion, the overflowing of emptiness.

Fudong did not take the easy path in his interpretation of life in China. He avoided the shots of people, weathered and worn, laid low by burdens, which have become so commonplace. In a sense, one ponders how much of the work is autobiographical and what Fudong pulled out of his own history to offer up to his audience. This is a China we would not easily find in the midst of our touristic traversing. But it is the true China. Fudong’s work gives us a chance to develop an intimacy that might guide us in our travels to discover the more authentic threads of what gives the Chinese mentality its uniqueness apart from the rest of the world.

Fudong was trained as a painter at the renowned Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou. But he outgrew that media as a child outgrows shoes, and he strode confidently into the world of film and video, which seems not only a natural progression, but a necessary one. While Fudong the painter was commendable, Fudong the photographer is astonishing. The work is an introspective combination of the psychological, philosophical, historical, and emotional components of China that lay it open for all to see.

Yang Fudong is indeed the visionary. How a propos that the show is presented at the Marian Goodman Gallery, where visionary art is de rigueur. 24 West 57th Street, NY, NY.