Palazzo Strozzi: Yan Pei-Ming’s “Painting Histories”

Palazzo Strozzi: Yan Pei-Ming’s “Painting Histories”

French-Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming displays his personal and historical vision in a monographic show in Florence.

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Fri 07 Jul 2023 11:25 AM

Palazzo Strozzi opens the doors to its newest exhibition, Painting Histories, featuring over 30 works by French-Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming. Part of the Future Art project developed in partnership with the Fondazione Hillary Merkus Recordati, this is the largest exhibition ever devoted to the artist in Italy. The exhibition follows political, historical and personal imagery taking inspiration from eastern and western influences.

Installation view of Yan Pei-Ming’s Painting Histories exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi. Ph. Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

Starting off on a personal note, the exhibition opens with a series of three larger-than-life self-portraits, followed by a dedication to Yan Pei-Ming’s late mother, who passed in 2018. The focus of the Buddha is an act of respect towards the artist’s mother, who is said to have been a profoundly religious woman, and a nostalgic recollection of Pei-Ming’s childhood involving an anti-worship campaign during the Cultural Revolution. During this time, he would often paint Buddhas for his family members.

A reworking of the most famous portrait in history, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is the subject of his work titled Les funérailles de Monna Lisa, in which the enigmatic woman is sandwiched between Yan Pei-Ming’s own personal imagery on the two opposing walls. One painting is of his father in a hospital bed, while the second is a depiction of a younger version of the artist himself at his own funeral. The intention is to tackle the theme of father-son relationships and goes against the natural principle of life that children should predecease their parents. The concept is described perfectly in a Chinese saying, which states that “white hair attends black hair’s funeral”.

Yan Pei-Ming’s work features a hefty amount of historical iconography. In the room called Paper Tiger, he recounts images westerners would stereotypically associate with China, such as tigers, dragons, actor Bruce Lee (who perfectly embodies globalization and became a cultural bridge between the east and west) and former president of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong.

His work doesn’t shy away from political provocation. Several of the works portray the assassinations of historical figures, such as Pier Paolo Pasolini and Benito Mussolini.

On a more contemporary note, the artist has appropriated two separate Time magazine covers of Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. While the front pages span a decade, their impact through Yan Pei-Ming’s perspective is tremendous.

Champ de crânes rouges, 2023, watercolour on paper, cm 154 x 405. Courtesy MASSIMODECARLO and Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery

“I assume I am a Chinese and European artist, but I am first and foremost an artist,” Yan Pei-Ming explained at the press preview of the Palazzo Strozzi show. While the creative grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution, he was trained in European art history. Through this dichotomy, much of his work merges techniques, themes and inspirations from both eastern and western culture. Beyond that, he acknowledges, “I am not a romantic painter. I am a painter of our time”. Cognizant that his art is not meant for everyone, he doesn’t care to create works for the faint-hearted. Yan Pei-Ming’s embroidering of personal and historical iconography using vigorous, almost aggressive brush strokes across enormous canvases capitalizes on the tangible power of his work.

Installation view of Yan Pei-Ming’s Painting Histories exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi. Ph. Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio

Yan Pei-Ming: Painting Histories

Palazzo Strozzi

July 7-September 3, 2023

Daily 10am-8pm, Thursdays until 11pm.

Full-price tickets cost 16 euro

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