Yuri Yuan Will You Remember Me, 2022 oil on linen 72 x 60 in. (182.9 x 152.4 cm.) Photo: Philipp Hoffmann

Yuri Yuan
Will You Remember Me, 2022
oil on linen
72 x 60 in. (182.9 x 152.4 cm.)

Yuri Yuan: Dark Dreams

September 7-October 12, 2022

Alexander Berggruen is pleased to present Yuri Yuan: Dark Dreams. This exhibition opened Wednesday, September 7, 2022 with a 5-7 pm reception at the gallery (1018 Madison Avenue, Floor 3, New York, NY).

Yuri Yuan: Dark Dreams introduces a new body of work as Yuri Yuan progresses her exploration of dreamlike allegories navigating psychology, the outside, and the unknown. A break from her previous presentations in which the narrative is carried along through a unified place or moment, these paintings depict idiosyncratic scenes directly inspired by her own distinct dreams and the moments immediately after waking from them in which the boundaries between reality and dreamscape are blurred. Resulting in familiar domestic mimetics, the paintings are at once perceptible and peculiar, tinged with the uncanny and the eerie. Open narratives, abstract elements, and symbolic references imbue dubiety into the environments’ psychophysical integrity.

Installation view of "Yuri Yuan: Dark Dreams" (September 7-October 12, 2022) at Alexander Berggruen, NY. Photo: Philipp Hoffmann

Yuan approaches the nebulous demons of mental health at the personal, occupational, and societal levels. Key to this grouping is her 2022 painting The Storm In Me. Here, the artist herself acts as both the realistically-rendered therapist and the implied patient whose body is formed by dark, buzzing, asemic mark making. In her own words, this duality represents the act of “suppressing the dark side of me with rationality”. Grappling with these implications as an artist, Yuan addresses the often romanticized tortured artist trope. But as the broken flower vase on the left register of the composition progresses to the flower drenched in light on the right, Yuan illustrates the beauty of this journey of healing, bringing attention instead back to the merits of painting. Beyond herself, Yuan’s explorations of anxiety and depression underscore the conditions’ increased presence brought on by the societal pressures of Capitalism. (1) Speaking about the shift in how anxiety is perceived today, Yuan stated: “In the contemporary age, we no longer fear dragons. The fears we have are much more abstract: the fear of catching covid, the fear of losing someone we love, the fear of an economic recession or war, things that we have absolutely no control over.”

Yuan delves further into the psyche considering not only the human condition between the waking and the sleeping, but also between the living and the dead. In her work Will You Remember Me, she hides memento mori under moonlight in an alluring field of flowers by a mysterious body of water. The artist conceptualized this work as she was considering how she would be remembered, or not, when she’s gone. Between being remembered or forgotten, she wonders: “Which one is more desirable? Who knows.” Driven by this uncertainty, Yuan intentionally references multiple open narratives of Greek mythology. As a recurring motif in Yuan’s work, a figure’s presence ferrying a boat is revealed only through their reflection on water. The artist considers this ferryman to be a reference to Charon of Hades, who carries the souls of the deceased to the underworld across the river Acheron. She allows that the river could also be another infernal river: Lethe, the river of forgetfulness; drinking from Lethe allows the spirits of the dead to forget their earthly lives, enabling them to be reincarnated. Must one forget or be forgotten in order to move on?

Installation view of "Yuri Yuan: Dark Dreams" (September 7-October 12, 2022) at Alexander Berggruen, NY. Photo: Philipp Hoffmann

Selecting narrative and visual references based on both their conceptual framework as well as their aesthetic value, Yuan’s diverse array of art historical and cultural influences includes painters such as Bernat Martorell, Henry Fuseli, Xu Beihong, and Edward Hopper; collections at The Met; cinematography; and even Bojack Horseman. In works in this show, Yuan recreates the stories around the composition of Fuseli’s 1781 The Nightmare and the female figure in Edward Hopper’s 1942 Nighthawks. In equal measure to the multiplicity of scenes depicted in this show, her painting Metamorphosis repurposes imagery from films ranging from Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Truman Show (1998), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), Vertigo (1958), Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022), and Paprika (2006), among many others, revealing the profound influence of film on Yuan’s work. This influence is also evidenced in the physicality of her canvases as in some of her works—Tales of NYC: Small Talk, for instance—she deliberately scales her paintings to the proportions of a film screen and builds windows within her compositions to resemble the ratios of the cinema screen: her paintings become proscenium.

Yuri Yuan: Dark Dreams is a dramatic anthology following the artist’s dreams and psychology driven by symbolic elements. Toggling between liminal spaces of awareness, Yuan guides a viewer along a disjointed journey.

Press Release by Kirsten Cave

Yuri Yuan: Dark Dreams ran at Alexander Berggruen (1018 Madison Avenue, Floor 3) from September 7-October 12, 2022. The exhibition’s preview is available upon request. For all inquiries, please contact the gallery at info@alexanderberggruen.com.

This exhibition marks the gallery’s second solo show with the artist, following Yuri Yuan: River Flows in You (July 21-August 31, 2021).

Yuri Yuan (b. 1996, Harbin, China) holds a Visual Arts MFA from Columbia University, New York, NY and a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Yuan was a recipient of the Helen Frankenthaler Scholarship at Columbia University in 2020, and Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant in 2019 and 2022. The artist’s work has been exhibited at Alexander Berggruen, NY; Make Room Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Simon Lee Gallery, London, UK; Moss Arts Center, Blacksburg, VA; Lenfest Center for the Arts, New York, NY; Sullivan Galleries, Chicago, IL; and International Center for the Arts, Umbria, Italy, among others. Her work is represented in the public collections of Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH and The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, CA. Yuan lives and works in New York, NY.

Installation view of Yuri Yuan: Dark Dreams (September 7-October 12, 2022) at Alexander Berggruen, NY. Photo: Philipp Hoffmann

An electric fragility surrounds Dark Dreams, a solo show by Yuri Yuan ’21, at Alexander Berggruen on the Upper East Side. Yuan leaves no accidents on the canvas, this much is clear; but what is also apparent is the degree of care Yuan exacts in her works, a degree that is there to, in the artist’s words, “encourage a way of active and thorough thinking. A way of thinking, that’s what I want to be known for.”

In Yuri Yuan’s deeply affective scenes, solitary figures, often self-portraits that threaten to disappear, insistently question the nature of subjectivity and sensory perception. […] By pushing into the membrane between sleep and dream, and by presenting dreams as inseparable from reality, Yuan ferries viewers across and inducts them into new modes of seeing. With titles like Farewell, Will You Remember Me, Metamorphosis, and Resurgence, Dark Dreams contends, too, with death—the deepest of all slumbers, not a finite end, but simply another kind of experience.

brightened Yuri Yuan Nightmare, 2022 oil on linen 48 x 72 in. (121.9 x 182.9 cm.) Photo: Philipp Hoffmann
Yuri Yuan Metamorphosis, 2022 oil on linen 72 x 68 in. (182.9 x 172.7 cm.) Photo: Philipp Hoffmann

From an Argus-like room with multiple eyes to a knight on horseback wielding a saber, Yuri Yuan seeps her canvases with personal references that she uses to understand the psychology behind fear. Layered with intimate moments of self-discovery, the artist grants the viewer leeway for voyeurism into her private dream state, capturing them as fleeting moments. Yuan grapples with the uneasiness of memory recollection and portrays various instances of invisibility where the protagonist is alone, an outsider, or perhaps a superpower.

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