GUANYU XU, Worlds Within Worlds, 2019, archival pigment print, 108 × 133 cm. All images courtesy the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York. 

Queering Spaces: Guanyu Xu’s “Temporarily Censored Home”

Yancey Richardson
USA China

Eight medium-large photographic prints hung on the four walls making up the front room of Yancey Richardson Gallery. There were no labels to contextualize Guanyu Xu’s exhibition; background information for “Temporarily Censored Home” was supplied in the press release, found online and at the gallery. By dedicating the space purely to Xu’s art, the gallery elicited a direct and unfiltered response from viewers. Comprehension came after the initial encounter, when one actively sought the information behind the cryptic and layered content within Xu’s prints. 

GUANYU XU, Parents’ Bedroom, 2018, archival pigment print, 108 × 133 cm.

“Temporarily Censored Home” documented a brief performance-installation the Chicago-based artist had mounted at his parents’ Beijing home. Xu grew up in a conservative household; his mother was a civil servant and his father was employed by the military. The artist came to understand his gay identity from his encounters with non-normative expression via the bits and pieces of American media—fashion magazines, movies, television shows—trickling into China. His parents still don’t know about his sexuality. As a kind of intervention, Xu took two trips back to his childhood home to secretly construct fleeting, transcultural, and queer spaces out of a Chinese, middle-class, heteronormative one. 

GUANYU XU, The Living Room, 2018, archival pigment print, 108 × 133 cm.
GUANYU XU, The Living Room, 2018, archival pigment print, 108 × 133 cm.

In Xu’s cluttered compositions, nearly every surface of the otherwise ordinary apartment is covered in shots of Xu with other gay men from his earlier series One Land to Another (2014– ); ads for a Clint Eastwood vehicle; military paraphernalia; and family photos, including one of Mom standing obliviously in front of a raised rainbow flag. Objects recur from one print to the next, rearranged in the sprawl of pictures, knickknacks, and everyday items. Xu gestures at the clash between a domineering, patriarchal, and heteronormative version of masculinity—projected by the military cap and images of Eastwood, for instance—and his queer identity, expressed in his homoerotic self-portraits. The material things depicted in the prints mark an oppressed personal narrative now unveiled.

Though one could argue that the gallery’s minimal presentation suggested a sense of concealment, gay iconography and signifiers in Xu’s work dispel such an impression. “Temporarily Censored Home” effectively visualized a life lived in shadows and reclaimed a stifling environment.  

Guanyu Xu’s “Temporarily Censored Home” is on view at Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York, until May 2, 2020.

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