The Other Side 3

The Other Side 3
titled, signed and dated ‘The Other Side 3 Yuan Yuan 2015’; signed in Chinese, dated again ‘2015’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
230 x 180 cm. (90 1/2 x 70 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2015
Private Collection, Europe
Edouard Malingue Gallery, Yuan Yuan, Hong Kong, 2016. (illustrated, cover and p. 175).
Galerie Malingue, Paris, France, Yuan Yuan: There is No There There, 21 October - 5 December 2015.

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Kimmy Lau

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Lot Essay

Viewing one of Yuan Yuan’s paintings is an experience comparable to a space journey: what meets the eye is a magnificent yet complex compositional narrative, defined by a dramatic spatial layout and the play of light; the intricate seaming that lines the borders of the mirrors and the unsettling, utter desertion of the space leave the spectator lost in a resplendent time capsule.

Yuan Yuan, a graduate cum laude from the prestigious Department of Oil Painting at the Chinese Academy of Art, was trained in traditional Russian realism, with an artistic focus on the Romanticism influenced handling of light, and noted for a fervent pursuit of compositional detail and treatment. Magnificent pavilions and galleries are a favourite motif among many artists; painters of the Venetian School were frequently commissioned by the royalty to depict the halls and loggias of the palace (fig.1) In The Other Side 3 (Lot 51), Yuan Yuan adds a layer by painting the reflected image of the mirror, complicating the interior image with a sophisticated and dynamic flair. The image reflected here is the Hall of Mirrors at Museum of the Revolution, Havana. At first glance, it seems a figurative painting of a replicated landscape; nonetheless, what Yuan Yuan captured is not a realist mural, but a deconstructive and reconstructive effort about light, space, detail and precision. Meanwhile, with a sweeping glance at the unfocused texture of the vista, the artist seeks to create a boundary between the surreal and real, and an ephemeral arcade of time. The borders of the mirrors hint that the other side of the painting reflects reality, that the spectator is staring at the mirror image of the historic museum stretching into the distance behind him. The faint refraction and juxtaposition dissolve the distance of the hallway in perspective. The mirrors that meet the eyes and the world in the mirrors are so clear that they become palpable. This mystical, imaginary dreaminess sets the tone for Yuan Yuan’s stylistic lexicon transcending representationalism, blazing the trail for landscape paintings in the next generation of Chinese contemporary art.

The Cuba Museum of the Revolution, built in 1909, is housed in the old city walls that made up of the Presidential Palace. The opulent Hall of Mirrors (fig. 2) in the Museum of the Revolution is a beautiful facsimile of the Hall of Mirrors at Chateau Versailles in Paris, the extremely sumptuous interior decorations were supervised by Charles Lewis Tiffany, a renowned designer based in New York. From palatial opulence to the fashion and glamour that New York design deliver, the spectators are also treated to an anticlimactic experience riddled with ruins and debris in the war trenches; this magnificent architecture has witnessed a tumultuous period in Cuban history. In the early 20th century, the United States forcibly inserted itself in Cuban political affairs to propagandise capitalist intemperance, the resulting reality was a widening gap between the rich and poor, and a high unemployment rate; the situationabated in 1950 when Fidel Castro and Che Guevara conducted an armed revolt to oust the U.S.-backed authority. The surface of the marbled floor in the Presidential Palace stairway is scarred by the onslaught of violent gunfight on the day of the revolutionaries’ takeover. The cracked floor tiles in the painting nonetheless remain bright and icy azure as a veiled mockery of the elegant Tiffany blue.

The Hall of Mirrors at the Museum of the Revolution was renovated in 2015. The metallic balustrades of the mezzanine are a foil to the modernized historic monument; the chandeliers are covered by the black cloth, forlornly hung on the frescoed ceiling. An inspirational transplant from the Hall of Mirrors at Chateau Versailles, built in 1678, to the former Presidential Palace in Cuba of the early 20th century, the Museum has borne the repercussions of the revolution in the 1950’s, and reinvented itself in 2015 to an establishment that acknowledges history, and embraces a new beginning. If L’empire des Lumieres (fig. 3) by René Magritte encapsulates day and night in one composition, The Other Side 3 by Yuan Yuan can be considered to dimensionally superimpose space, time and history.

Yuan Yuan’s creations are not pigeonholed in a particular stretch of time, nor wallowing in melancholic ‘nostalgia’ or ‘remembrances.’ In Las Meninas (fig. 4), Spanish painter Diego Velázquez uses the image of the mirror, where the King and Queen are seen standing, with their gazes on their daughter, to metaphorise their love for the royal daughter. Meanwhile, he superimposes the places of the royal couple and the spectator, creating one of the world’s renowned riddles on the representation of reality and mirage. While showing the exhibition ‘There is No There There’ in Paris, Yuan Yuan placed The Other Side series in a relatively closed-up and low-set gallery. The indoor image inside and outside the painting mirrored each other; it was as if the splendid Hall of Mirrors was stretching beyond the spectators, unsettling them with obscured boundaries between reality and a reflective world. By grafting the borderlands inside and outside the mirror, Yuan Yuan hopes to inspire an innovative viewing experience, placing the spectator before history, remembrances, reflections and imaginations. The perfumed couture and coiffed royalties of the high society in the glorious past glimmer and flutter in a multifarious unraveling and juxtaposition; as the myth and the empire dissolved, the luminous palace rose from the wreckage; the guiding light toward the future on the other side dappled the opposite end of hallway. By fusing architectural history and revolutionary influence, time and reality in a reflective universe, Yuan Yuan portrays a compelling narrative about imagination and make-believe with eloquence.

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