Lisson Gallery

'Yu Hong brings supernatural realism to Venice' - Plaster

17 April 2024

Birth, life, desire, sex and death: Chinese artist Yu Hong’s first major exhibition in Europe takes over a deconsecrated Venetian monastery

There’s birth, there’s death and there’s that odd bit in-between; full of pleasure and pain, emotion and apathy, faith and disappointment. Chinese artist Yu Hong doesn’t seem interested in the small stuff. She doesn’t think about it, she doesn’t paint it and you won’t find any in ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, her latest show, in a deconsecrated church in Venice. She’s interested in the boiled-down experience of humanity, the cycle of life: birth, life, desire, sex and death. “When conceiving this exhibition, I wanted to have a dialogue with the religious art there, which essentially conveys contemplation of the ultimate questions of life,” she explains via email.

You won’t find small ideas, but you will find detail, in droves. Yu’s brand of supernatural realism is as though Byzantine icons or the characters of Buddhist narrative painting were reborn in the digital age; as if Song dynasty group portraiture acquired the sacred grace of Michelangelo, the contortions of Caravaggio and the brutal flesh of Egon Schiele.

Yu was born in Xi’an, China in 1966. In the 1980s, she studied painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing, where she has taught since her graduation. Back then, Socialist realism was de rigueur in Chinese art academies. But it wasn’t realism at all. It was the construction of a romanticised utopia under communism, which painted over all human complexity. Yu didn’t subscribe; she became part of China’s ‘New Generation’ artists, seeking to capture the effects of rapid societal and economic change on individual lives. “That label is something that art critics came up with,” she says. “It was neither a group nor an organisation, but rather a group of young artists whose creations abandon grand collective narrative perspectives and turn to expressing their views on the world through individual narratives.”

Read the interview by Harriet Lloyd-Smith in full via Plaster.

Yu Hong photographed in her studio by Li Yinyin.

'Yu Hong brings supernatural realism to Venice' - Plaster
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