From 19 March to 27 July 2008, GAMeC – Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo will be presenting the exhibition Yan Pei-Ming with Yan Pei-Ming, curated by Giacinto Di Pietrantonio. It will be the first solo exhibition in an Italian museum dedicated to this artist of Chinese origin, one of the leaders on the international contemporary art scene.
Twenty large format works, including many watercolours, most of which are being exhibited to the public for the first time – for example, International Landscape (2006), Pope Jean-Paul II (2005), Self-portrait at Four Ages (2006) and the series New Born, New Life(2007) offer the public a chance to examine Pei-Ming’s current work, not in the form of a retrospective but as an exhibition created around a theme specially selected by the artist and the curator. There are four sections: Self-portrait with Landscape, Self-portrait with Religion, Self-portrait with Relatives and Self-portrait with Life and Death.
The title suggests the central subject matter of the exhibition, the self-portrait, that is present in each room and is in continuous dialogue with the other subjects displayed. This choice follows from the consideration that every work is, in some way, a self-portrait of its artist even when it does not directly depict him or her, as it is a representation of the artist. Pei-Ming took up the theme of self-portraits in 2000, and this moment was taken by the curator as a watershed, marking a place from where it was possible to travel backwards or forwards in artistic time.
Another important aspect of the exhibition is the technique the artist uses – painting – which contains within itself a reference to classicism and antiquity. In fact, his painting makes heavy use of matter and is produced using violent brushwork, thus representing a bridge between the East, his origin, and the West, his cultural homeland. The large oil canvases with which Pei-Ming has made a name for himself on the international scene – almost monochrome in black, white or red, with recurrent images of political figures like Mao Zedong, from the cinema like Bruce Lee, or religious figures like the Pope, the Buddha or the Virgin Mary – are made using a Western technique that the artist paints only in his studio in Dijon. His watercolours, on the other hand, which he only creates when he is in Shanghai, draw on the pictorial tradition of the East. In both cases his painting never makes reference to a precise geographical setting but becomes synonymous with atemporality and non-place: East and West combined in a mixture of styles, elements and subjects. The use of watercolours is important to the artist: he uses it to paint the series of children, thus life in its early stages, and the skulls and self-portrait as a hanged man, and therefore the end of existence: thus life and death intertwined, as the last section of the exhibition suggests. The self-portrait becomes a symbol, the setting for death, or, better, of suicide. In other words, the end is programmed and this signifies that the artist is in a position to decide on everything, not just his works of art, and through them on life and death.
The film Ming, artiste brigand by French director Michel Quinejure shows Pei-Ming’s working method: vibrant brushstrokes against the canvas and a discipline that includes an an obsession with series: the repetition of the subject, the use of monochrome, and a series of self-imposed time constrictions that bring his pictorial work – an intense interaction with the canvas as though it were a contest between himself and the work – close to the precepts of an oriental martial art.
The exhibition was heralded last November with the entry into the gallery’s Permanent Collection of Pei-Ming’s work Pope John XXIII, painted in 2005 and part of the collection belonging to the Banca Popolare di Bergamo.
Curated by Giacinto Di Pietrantonio