Installation view of “Overpop” at Yuz Museum, Shanghai, 2016. Photo by Alessandro Wang. Courtesy Yuz Museum. 


Yuz Museum

With two years’ worth of research and multiple studio visits by the Yuz Museum’s founding director Budi Tek and his team, along with New York-based gallerist Jeffrey Deitch and Karen Smith, director of OCAT Xi’an contemporary art center in China—the exhibition “Overpop” developed into a cross-cultural exchange of artists who are seen as a new generation purportedly cultivating novel, aesthetic ground. Six of the 17 artists in this exhibition, curated by Deitch and Smith, are based in mainland China while the rest are from America or Europe, currently working and living in New York, London, Amsterdam, Berlin or Los Angeles.

Occupying the entire first floor of the museum are some 60 works, covering all bases in terms of media—including painting, sculpture, installation, video, film and performance. The underlying premise, according to Deitch, is how this generation of artists, born in the mid- to late 1970s and ’80s, are advancing or intensifying the Pop tradition, while also responding to the relentless deluge of visual information impacting our global lives via the internet and mass media, and their accelerated, unabated force-feeding of digital imagery.

Installation view of “Overpop” at Yuz Museum, Shanghai, 2016. Photo by Alessandro Wang. Courtesy Yuz Museum. 

What seems slightly unnerving and eerily familiar about this show is how one might suddenly feel that they are in the throes of a 1980s flashback, when industrial or “artisanal” fabrication—as Deitch refers to it—was all the rage or de rigueur for artists such as Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Matt Mullican, Ashley Bickerton, Barbara Kruger and other artists of the era who went on to build defining and influential careers.

But beyond the use of found objects, or the latest in technological wizardry, how does this exhibition fundamentally connect to Pop sensibilities from over half a century ago? Or could it all be reduced to savvy marketing and slick packaging? Smith, who selected the six artists from China (He An, Wu Di, Tong Kunniao, Liu Yefu, aaajiao and Tan Tian) does, in fact, make an excellent observation about “the impact of context and display” for young artists in China. The overall design of this exhibition smartly follows this same line of thinking, adeptly handled by the Paris-based design firm Studio Adrien Gardère.           

TONG KUNNIAO, On the Way from Romania to Los Angeles, 2016, mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy Yuz Museum, Shanghai. 

SAMARA GOLDENThe Flat Side of the Knife, 2014, mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy Yuz Museum, Shanghai. 

Among the standout works in this exhibition is Beijing-based Tong Kunniao’s installation On the Way from Romania to Los Angeles (2016), made especially for “Overpop” and the most ambitious work the artist has made to date. A parade of broken down amusement park rides for kids—little chariots (or rickshaws), a dinosaur on wheels, an elephant and a little red pony leading the herd, along with sewing machines, bells and a human skeleton bringing up the rear—the work is kinetic, chaotic and aggressively cacophonous, with harmonicas dispersed throughout the installation and played by small industrial fans or blowers. The piece also incorporates a honking, novelty-store rubber chicken who seems to be the leader of this band. The work is loud and unruly, suggesting a post-apocalyptic vision that is part funeral procession, part junkyard Gypsy caravan. Another all-immersive installation, Los Angeles-based Samara Golden’s The Flat Side of the Knife (2014), literally executes the idea of turning our domestic spaces upside down in her all-surrounding, mirror-surfaced work, which the artist describes as being of the “sixth dimension.” Staircases lead to a seemingly endless nowhere and to possible exits that, in fact, do not exist. Sofas, beds, lamps and tables appear suspended and weightless. While the ambition of this work certainly speaks to a larger idea of sensory deception, as well as the psychology and power of illusion and liminality, one still cannot help but be reminded of the deep illusory spaces of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Rooms (1965– ).

Of all the works in this exhibition, Alex Israel’s super-sized apricot-colored Lens (Orange) from 2015, measuring seven-by-eight feet, might be the most convincing candidate as a post-Pop Hollywood icon. Fabricated from actual UV protective plastic used for sunglasses, the work leans casually against the wall and pays homage to the Finish Fetish and Space and Light artists, such as John McCracken and Larry Bell of the 1960s and ’70s who defined California Minimalism. Israel’s trenchant cultural understanding of this everyday, common multifunctional and multi-fashionable accessory couldn’t be more Pop or Warhol Factory ready. That said, the works in “Overpop” assert an über cool, state-of-the-art moment. One cannot help but wonder, however, if part of this moment is also about being keenly aware of one’s obsolescence.

“Overpop” is currently on view at Yuz Museum, Shanghai, until January 15, 2017. 

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