A4 Art MuseumExhibitions
Artist Case StudySouthwestern Art Ecology

Yang Mian Solo Exhibition:2.6 Million Dots and Western Art History

2020.12.19 - 2021.03.07
  • Artist:
    Yang Mian
  • Artistic Director:
    Sunny Sun
  • Curator:
    Li Jie

Exhibition information

The Origin Point and the Double Shadows

Li Jie

The “origin point” for Yang Mian’s CMYK series appeared in 2009. CMYK is a color system broadly used in modern books, periodicals, and leaflets. The four letters represent four colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK. Yang uses this model to deconstruct images by separating them into four colors on a computer. In the process, he creates subjective paintings based on the color processing principles of advertising printing plates. Standing in contrast to lightning-fast mechanical image production techniques, Yang uses subjective analysis and personal painting to emphasize the importance of engaging in dialogue with image production mechanisms. Yang Mian, like an ascetic monk in his studio, deconstructs a series of famous paintings into tens of thousands of four-color dots. There are a total of 2.6 million dots in the works presented in this exhibition, which took Yang five years to create. Through individual, free choice, he arranged a series of colored dots on the canvas, re-interpreting the image within an image.

When we look at the CMYK works from afar, the colored dots, which are separated from one another, become fused in our retinas to create different shapes and blocks of color. This series continues Georges Seurat’s experiments and explorations with colors and retinal dislocation. However, in contrast to the Neo-impressionism artist, Yang Mian’s disassembly of these pictures was not intended to serve a certain pictorial aesthetic or pure painting experiment. When we engage with them, we experience the abstract pixels and color blocks that appear after we have enlarged a picture countless times, but there are actual voids between the densely-packed dots; they separate the image from our experience, returning to the emptiness from which the images were born. We can’t help but wonder whether these classic images are actually present.

CMYK also symbolizes the globalized dissemination of culture brought about by printing technologies and digital images; it diversifies aesthetics and makes cultural enlightenment possible. Yang Mian wants to democratize printing technologies and digital picture dissemination, adding this to the relationship between painting and the viewer. He believes that this allows him to build a more democratic system of visual and cognitive experience. He eliminates the singular subjectivity of traditional painting by engaging with a more open and interactive cultural context.

In his early experiments with the CMYK series, Yang Mian focused on the dissolution of single images in Chinese traditional literati painting, ancient wall painting, and Western classical painting. If we see this phase of Yang’s experimentation as an exploration of image generation methods, then the Western art history portion of CMYK, which he started in 2015, is his consideration of the cultural lineage that underpins the creation and dissemination of images. In the “2.6 Million Dots and Western Art History” series, Yang Mian extends the basic method of his CMYK series. In addition to extraction, collection, and composition, he adds photomontage and image layering to create a different visual and dimensional viewing experience with these images. This series could be considered a hybrid entity, comprised of the spatial and temporal exploration of painting, as well as the double shadows of history and personal experience.

This show will present 13 paintings, comprised of 45 classic works from Western art history, spanning the Early Renaissance, the High Renaissance, the Baroque period, Neo-Classicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Expressionism, Surrealism, and Pop Art. In tracing modern art from its beginnings with the frescos of Early Renaissance artist Giotto di Bondone to symbol-packed Pop Art works by Andy Warhol, Yang leaps from images of gods to images of people to spirit to symbol. Through the simple connection of these origin points, we can see the pictorial evolution of Western art history, which reflects a cultural shift toward the human and an artistic trend toward individual liberation. Furthermore, Yang Mian’s generation of Chinese artists learned about Western art history through the dissemination of images. These blueprints for painting came from the communal writing of history and individual cultural memories. In contrast to the deductions of art historians, Yang wanted to use subjective image selection and arrangement in order to reassemble and reconstruct an original art historical trajectory, showing us a double shadow of art history that is difficult to clearly identify. In contrast to many contemporary artists who appropriate, adapt, or mock classic art historical images, Yang Mian’s painting experiments produce a new cultural aesthetic rooted in the symbols, dissemination, and misinterpretation of pictures. He attempts to set us on guard, asking: When an artist is constantly extending and building systems of pictorial symbols, does he need to construct new contexts or meanings? Or is this just cultural consumption and self-dissolution?

In the typical museum style, we arrange the exhibited works according to date and school, creating a space for perception, dialogue, and tracing. From the origin point in Yang Mian’s paintings, we move through the double shadows of pictorial history and into the open space of one man’s artistic trajectory and cultural development.