Installation view of YUAN YUAN’s “Irregular Pearl,” at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong, 2020. All images courtesy the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong / Shanghai.

Desolate Beauty in Yuan Yuan’s “Irregular Pearl”

Edouard Malingue Gallery
Hong Kong China Germany

Yuan Yuan’s elaborately detailed paintings of derelict interiors and architecture are haunting. Devoid of any human presence yet laden with traces of prior existence, the compelling portrayals accentuate the fragility of life and the formidable passing of time. The Berlin-based artist’s latest solo show at Edouard Malingue, titled “Irregular Pearl” after the naturally non-spherical variety known for its minor aberrations, captured the melancholic beauty found in the imperfections of his surreal, decrepit universe. 

The exhibition opened with Journey into the blue (2020), an imposing illustration of a section of a barren house—its windows shattered, ceilings cobwebbed, wooden frames tarnished with chipped paint. The painting’s title and the vibrant azure tiles lining the interior prompt the viewer’s gaze inward, but any serene introspection is stopped short by the piles of waste on the ground and the blood-like streaks of rust sprawling across the sink and bathtub. The quarter’s meticulously patterned mosaic tiles and Chantilly lace curtains suggest a cherished home, yet uninhabited, the building stands as testimony to negligence, echoing the what-ifs and could-have-beens. 

YUAN YUAN, Journey into the blue, 2020, oil on linen, 180 × 225 cm.
YUAN YUAN, Journey into the blue, 2020, oil on linen, 180 × 225 cm.

YUAN YUAN, Gorilla exhibit, 2020, oil on linen, 180 × 270 cm.

The same desolation is mirrored by In exposed walls (2019), depicting a multi-storied apartment complex in a worsened state of deterioration. The brightly colored facades recalling the murals along Berlin’s Kreutziger Strasse indicate a once-flourishing social hub that is no more, its decayed structure revealing fractured rebars and bricks beneath the formerly vibrant visage. The message is one of limitation: all good things come to an end. 

In Gorilla exhibit (2020), the absence of people has spawned a whole ecosystem, with the floors of the porcelain tiled swimming pool overgrown with algae amid sunken tree branches and tangled nets. Nature has reclaimed its hold over the manmade constructions that have infiltrated the planet. Up above, rays of sunshine rippling on the water surface offer a glimmer of hope for the environment sans human interference. Similarly, The perfect passenger (2020), modeled after a functioning train station in Berlin, insinuates that perhaps the perfect passenger is no passenger. The glass-ceilinged station has become a green house, with an assortment of cacti growing from the floor, tenaciously piercing through concrete.

Yuan’s strangely romanticized paintings of deserted spaces offer an occasionally voyeuristic view into a parallel universe where the former glory of once-loved houses and public spaces muddles with the spectacle of their current disarray. In the face of time, mankind’s strife is minuscule; instead, it is our frailness and mortality that make life all the more alluring. 

YUAN YUAN, The perfect passenger, 2020, oil on linen, 205 × 155 cm.

Lauren Long is ArtAsiaPacific’s news and web editor.

Yuan Yuan’s “Irregular Pearl” is on view at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong, until June 27, 2020.

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