Tales of New York City: Narrow Sky
This work is part of the artist's series Tales of New York. These compositions are Yuan's most socially incisive work to date, and are based on encounters that the artist had while wandering around the city. Each work is a deeply empathetic look at the alienation of urbanism. Yuan's series is mediated through the Marxist concept of the "alienated worker"—focusing in particular on the experiences of the middle-class city dweller.
Yuan's work depicts the everyday and quotidian, capturing a mundanity and emptiness in even the most surreal scenes. The artist's delicate palette emphasizes the fundamental emptiness of the modern condition—a loneliness that follows her female protagonists from the city to the countryside, from reality into dream. By emphasizing the unexplainable, Yuan’s works represent a new and achingly contemporary sea change for figurative painting. The critic John Yau has described Yuan’s paintings as “understated, but ... signal[ing] a significant shift in consciousness.”
About this series, Yuan says: “The Tales of New York City series focuses on a . . . social level, without highlighting any particular individual. Tales of NYC has . . . an external gaze. It is based on my observations and memories of living in New York as a working young adult. This body of work is as close to 'social commentary’ as my work has gotten in recent years. Still, I insist that, like all of my works, [these works] are asking questions, not providing answers. These paintings capture some moments that I felt an overwhelming empathy towards people in New York. The more busy and glamorous the city life looks, the more lonely people feel. Perhaps the exhaustion of a New York commuter juxtaposed with billboards promising better lives can best express [the] Marxist ‘alienated worker’ and [the] passive consumer of culture in Adorno’s The Culture Industry. I think art and literature sometimes romanticize the lowest class (like Manet’s paintings depicting beggars as philosophers) and the highest class (like Sargent’s rich ladies). I can not resonate with these extremes as I have never experienced extreme poverty or wealth. I empathize with the regular working class, working aimlessly day after day, trying to occupy life with work, romance and money so that there would be no time for existential doubts.”
Yuri Yuan’s paintings, created with a delicate palette, emphasize the fundamental emptiness of the modern condition. The artist’s work depicts everyday life, capturing a mundanity in even the most surreal scenes—as well as a loneliness that follows her female protagonists from the city to the countryside, and from reality into dream. By emphasizing the unexplainable, Yuan’s works represent a sea change for figurative painting.
Yuri Yuan was born in Harbin, China in 1996 and raised in Singapore. The artist received a BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago in Illinois and an MFA from Columbia University in New York City.
Exhibitions of Yuan’s work have taken place at: Make Room Los Angeles in California (2021); New York Academy of Art in New York City (2021); Alexander Berggruen in New York City (2021); the Asia Art Center in Taipei, Taiwan (2021); Tiger Strikes Asteroid in New York City (2021); Project Gallery V in New York City (2021); The ROOM Contemporary Art Space in Venice, Italy (2021); and Siragusa Gallery in Chicago, Illinois (2018).
The critic John Yau has described Yuan’s paintings as “understated, but... signal[ing] a significant shift in consciousness.”
Yuan was a recipient of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation scholarship in 2020, and Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant in 2019.
Yuan currently lives and works in New York City.
This painting is based on encounters that the artist had while wandering around New York City. The composition is a deeply empathetic look at the alienation of urbanism mediated through Marxist concepts—focusing in particular on the experiences of the middle-class city dweller.More