Yan Pei-Ming’s “Painting Stories” at Palazzo Strozzi

Yan Pei-Ming’s “Painting Stories” at Palazzo Strozzi
Mao rouge, 2006, oil on canvas, cm 350 × 350, Private Collection, Photography: André Morin, ©Yan Pei-Ming, ADAGP, Paris, 2023

In collaboration with the Fondazione Hillary Merkus Recordati, over 30 works by renowned contemporary painter Yan Pei-Ming are now on display at Palazzo Strozzi

Expansive, evocative paintings by French-Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming are gracing the walls of Palazzo Strozzi From July 7 to September 3 in what is the largest exhibition ever dedicated to the painter in Italy. With subjects that range from the personal to the politically subversive, Yan Pei-Ming ignites a dialogue about the past and present with a collection of works titled Painting Stories, synthesizing intimate scenes and historical imagery through contemporary modes of artistic expression. Drawing on several wide-ranging sources of inspiration — famous paintings, political iconography, moving depictions of family – Yan Pei-Ming invites the viewer to reflect on the powerful messages behind his larger-than-life portaints, using influences from both eastern and western artistic traditions.

The exhibit begins in a room featuring an arresting self-portrait series titled Nom D’un Chien! Un jour parfait (Dammit! A perfect day), setting the tone for the paintings that follow. The artist portrays himself in a pose reminiscent of Christ on the cross, suspended in front of a murky backdrop, the outline of the body almost blurred with the grayish, hazy surface it emerges from, fists clenched. Opposite the painting is a cart which has been layered with paint unused after the completion of his portraits, the only work reminiscent of sculpture in the exhibit.

Yan Pei-Ming’s “Painting Stories” at Palazzo Strozzi
Nom d’un chien! Un jour parfait, 2012, triptych, oil on canvas, n. 2 cm 400 x 280 each, Private Collection, Photography: André Morin, ©Yan Pei-Ming, ADAGP, Paris, 2023

In the next room are three works dedicated to Yan Pai-Ming’s mother. With a large-scale, black-and-white painting, the artist portrays his mother staring expressively at the viewer, eyes deep-set with palpable emotion, brow furrowed – the only portrait made by the artist during her lifetime. On another wall a colorful, vibrant orange and yellow painting of the Buddha sits in meditative contemplation — contrasted with the western religious evocation of Christ in his self-portraits — a reference meant to honor the profound piety of Yan Pei-Ming’s mother and his religious upbringing.

Yan Pei-Ming’s “Painting Stories” at Palazzo Strozzi
Bouddha pour ma mère, 2023, oil on canvas, cm 300 × 200, Courtesy MASSIMODECARLO e Thaddaeus Ropac gallery, Photography: Clérin-Morin ©Yan Pei-Ming, ADAGP, Paris, 2023

Moving into the adjacent room, the viewer finds a reworking of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, flanked by personal images of the artist as he imagines himself at his own funeral, and his father in a hospital bed. Here, Yan Pei-Ming highlights influences taken from western art as he interjects his own struggle to make sense of death and the relationship between father and son into a dialogue with the most iconic portrait in art history.

Yan Pei-Ming’s “Painting Stories” at Palazzo Strozzi
Les Funérailles de Monna Lisa, 2009, 5 canvas, oil on canvas, canva n. 3, cm 280 ×280, Private Collection, Photography: André Morin, ©Yan Pei-Ming, ADAGP, Paris, 2023

Another room titled Paper Tiger features iconography and images westerners typically associate with China. Each of the four walls reveals a bright red portrait of a unique symbolic person or animal: Bruce Lee, Mao Zedong, the Dragon, the Tiger. The dragon – barely visible at first to the naked eye – emerges slowly from the red fog. A quote attributed to the artist reads. “I assume I am both a Chinese and a European artist, but I am first of all an artist.”

Yan Pei-Ming’s “Painting Stories” at Palazzo Strozzi
Tigre rouge vermillion de Chine, 2023, oil on canvas, cm 240 × 280, Courtesy MASSIMODECARLO e Thaddaeus Ropac gallery, Photography: Clérin-Morin ©Yan Pei-Ming, ADAGP, Paris, 2023

Following the line of the artist’s portrait of Mao Zedong, politically subversive imagery dominates the adjoining room. Images of Vladimir Putin’s 2007 Time magazine “Person of the Year” cover is confronted by the 2022 cover featuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in two triptychs that face off with one another. Next to the portraits is a long, blood-red piece depicting a “field of skulls,” evoking the horrors and atrocities committed during wartime.

Yan Pei-Ming’s “Painting Stories” at Palazzo Strozzi
Vladimir Putin, Tsar of The New Russia, 2008, watercolours on paper, cm 210 × 154 each, Private Collection, Photography: André Morin, ©Yan Pei-Ming, ADAGP, Paris, 2023
[His work continues along this theme in the next room of the exhibition, portraying the executions of prominent political figures such as Mussollini and the disfigured image of Adolf Hitler, the personification of evil. Tying the tragedies of WWII together with an image of a barking dog, the artist attempts to represent the cruel brutality of humanity during this time.

Yan Pei-Ming’s “Painting Stories” at Palazzo Strozzi
Chien hurlant, 2022, oil on canvas, cm 240 × 280, Courtesy MASSIMODECARLO e Thaddaeus Ropac gallery, Photography: Clérin-Morin ©Yan Pei-Ming, ADAGP, Paris, 2023

The exhibition of Yan Pei-Ming’s work in Palazzo Strozzi leaves the viewer with much to consider: what humanity is capable of, who we are now and what we can learn from who we once were. “History plays a fundamental role in my work,” a quote from the artist reads, “partially because it is governed by the conflict between life and death, or the idea of the end of the human condition. I believe it is this constant struggle that moves us.”

INSPIRATION
Best Museums in Florence


July 7 – September 3

Palazzo Strozzi

Open daily 10am to 8pm (Thursdays 10am to 11pm)

Tickets: Full €15; reduced €12

palazzostrozzi.org

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