July 25, 2009, Beijing — UCCA presents Yan Lei’s solo exhibition, Sparkling (Upgraded), which opens to the public on July 26. Composed of light boxes, artist-designed wallpaper, and a shining crystal floor, the exhibition reflects the artist’s continuing mixture of the complex, artificial and ambiguous into his artistic approach for this mixed-media installation. The exhibition will be on display until October 11.In 2007, after participating in Documenta 12, Yan Lei created the “Sparkling” series and took part in an exhibition in Aspen, USA. “Sparkling” refers to the spotlight continuously tracking performers onstage. Perhaps it was the artist’s awareness and reflection on the performance-like dimension that accompanies art biennials (and triennials) and contemporary art production. In this series, using his customary blurred sarcasm, Yan Lei reviews the contradiction-filled relationship between himself, Documenta, and the art power structure. The background of the work is filled with a blazing light, which resembles that radiant light in which Chinese leaders appeared in images made during the Cultural Revolution. With this glowing brightness are contrasted images of: the artist himself; Hong Hao, his collaborator in forging a “letter of invitation” which falsely invited artists to participate in a previous Documenta; the renowned Andy Warhol; the portraits of Roger Buergel and Ruth Noack, curators of Documenta 12 in 2007; and images of air hostesses in airline company ads from the 1950s and 1960s. Seemingly, these mutually unconnected people are being cast into the spotlight onstage, to the acclaim of many. Beside these works are images of the artist taken in China, Kassel, and finally at the Aspen Art Museum (the exhibition venue). This arrangement appears to be a “psychology course” reflecting on the artist’s anxiety-filled and contradictory relationship with Documenta and the global art system.“In these works, one senses an unnamed love-hate sentiment and the artist’s skill to spot important and incisive matters in the scattered whole. He is then able to show the various clashing and contradictory value systems, the interwoven established identities, and to reflect on the right to manipulate art.” says Guo Xiaoyan, UCCA Chief Curator.
Continuing the theme, the images employed in this exhibition stem from pictures of artists and collectors from the contemporary Chinese art scene, taken by UCCA’s Director Jérôme Sans, who has for a long time been taking Polaroid photographs of various people in the world art community, of which he is also a member. Using the improvised and somewhat blurry pictures, Yan Lei makes light boxes, which, presented in collaboration with his artistic wallpaper and crystal floor, create a thoroughly hazy, resplendent and dizzying environment.
As one of the Chinese artists who saw their work mature in the 1990s, when experimentation with more artistic mediums became widespread, Yan Lei experienced the era when art negotiated with power, especially the Chinese and Western art institutions that represent the power structures of the exhibition system. These are issues that generations of Chinese artists have exploring strenuously and grappling with continuously since the 1980s. This search for new tactics, using a self-derisive stance to deal with the global art system, and an awareness of the boundaries and rebellion embedded in the process have become the core of Yan Lei’s strategy, which is constructed around the theme of “the self” and filled with boundless skepticism over the system itself and distrust in the art power structures themselves.