Installation view of “Under the Skin” at Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2014. Photo by Kitmin.com. Courtesy Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. 

TRACEY EMIN, Dead in Africa Dream, 2012, monoprint on paper, 20.9 × 29.6 cm. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Under the Skin

Lehmann Maupin
Hong Kong

This summer, amongst the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong’s Central district, Lehmann Maupin Gallery hosted a group exhibition titled “Under the Skin,” featuring a small collection of seven artworks by Tracey Emin, Klara Kristalova, Alex Prager, Robin Rhode, Juergen Teller and Erwin Wurm. Linked by the works’ engagement with figurative representation, the show displayed a diverse range of mediums from monoprint and watercolor to photography and sculpture, most of which explore notions relating to identity, society and isolation.

“Under the Skin”—the overarching theme for the exhibition and also the title of Tracey Emin’s selection of works—was a bold attempt at inviting viewers to look deeply into, as well as examine, their feelings, fears and emotions. Emin’s works, which often draw from her own personal experiences, are brutally honest in their conveyance of her inner struggles. A leading figure of the Young British Artists movement, and a Turner Prize nominee for her work My Bed (1999), Emin is known for her raw and revealing portrayal of human sentiment in her works, which frequently exposes people at their most intimate and vulnerable moments.

Just the Absolute End (2012), one of eight monoprints by Emin that were on display at Lehmann Maupin, depicts a small, feminine figure crouching down helplessly on the floor, seemingly unwilling—nor having the energy—to get up. Surrounded by a vast, empty space, two lines of text are written above the figure. The first line, “The end of being beautiful,” is crossed out and followed by the second, which reads “OK, just the end.” The bitter disappointment of the work’s subject toward her fading beauty, and her apparent state of insecurity and negativity, seems all too relatable in this day and age, where countless women despair over their appearance and struggle with their identities. Emin’s ability to let her guard down through the portrayal of her own internal battles allows the viewer to establish a strong and intimate connection to her works.

ROBIN RHODE, Carry-on, 2013, black-and-white print, nine parts, each: 46.6 × 70 cm, overall dimensions: 149.8 × 220 cm. Copyright Robin Rhode. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

JUERGEN TELLER, Cerith, Suffolk, 2011, C-print, 61 × 50.8 cm. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Emin’s monoprints also examine feelings of isolation and desolation, such as in There Was No One Else There (2012) and Dead in Africa Dream (2012)both of which depict lone, forlorn figures surrounded by barren furniture. This dejected spirit can also be felt through some of her other monoprints, which are printed directly onto stationery labeled with a French address, and are suggestive of the moments of sadness one experiences when travelling to foreign places. In revealing stories of despair, trauma and isolation in her life, Emin’s monoprints are a poignant effort to encourage the viewer to come to terms with their own vulnerabilities.

Robin Rhode’s nine-panel, black-and-white photographic sequence Carry-on (2013) is another interesting piece, which addresses the relationship between the individual and society. Born in Apartheid-era South Africa and currently based in Berlin, Rhode’s works tend to focus on issues regarding identity, and draw from a range of historical and contemporary references. Using public spaces and walls as his canvas, Rhodes tells intriguing narratives. Carry-on, for example, depicts a performance of a hooded figure wrestling with what appears to be a piece of luggage made in the geographic shape of South Africa. The apparent “push-pull” resistance between the man and his bag evokes the constant struggle and burdens that entail transnational identiy, demonstrating how invisible societal and political pressures impact our lives. In a world increasingly characterized by globalization and migration, Rhode’s piece is extremely apt and probes the viewer to reflect on the multifaceted nature of the world we live in today.

On the other side of the gallery was Juergen Teller’s photograph, Cerith, Suffolk (2011), an arresting image of a frail, catatonic man lying on a bed, accompanied by a colorful bundle of balloons and a candle-littered cake. Teller, who is known for both his fine-art and commercial photography, presents Cerith, Suffok in a style similar to that of a fashion shoot. His signature style of overexposure and on-board flash is evident in this work, perhaps almost a bit too blinding for his frail subject. The photo is full of stark comparisons: a lone, dying man juxtaposed with a cluster of boisterous, buoyant balloons, and a seeming loss of spirit contrasted with a larger-than-life birthday cake. Teller’s thoughtful exploration of youth and old age, isolation and congregation, and life and death, serves as a reminder that dualisms are an inevitable part of life.

Through showcasing various artists, Lehmann Maupin compiled a thought-provoking summer show with a range of fascinating artworks. “Under the Skin” explored figurative representations that spoke to the viewer on an individual level. With no set theme, the exhibition encouraged the viewer to draw their own personal connections to find the common thread that tied the works together.

“Under the Skin” was on view at Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, from July 10 to August 16, 2014.