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Yu Youhan (余友涵)

Foreign Mao (Mondrian)

1999

83 cm (h) x 83 cm (l) x 5 cm (d)

Acrylic on Canvas

Artwork Location: Shanghai

One of Yu’s most sought after-works, and an excellent example of Political Pop’s ironic ability to both exploit and re-harmonize icons through post modern pastiche in an attempt to re-empower these cultural icons within a new world order which included traditional Chinese notions that art should integrate a philosophical world-view with the existing political order in a harmonized whole.A very rare and sought-after work, this is one of the most important works of Yu Youhan.

Yu was from an older generation influenced heavily by Social Realism and by the Westernized city of Shanghai, and an early leader in the Political Pop movement. Yu has taken an iconic image of Mao and placed him directly into a hypothetical context, framing him with the geometric grid of a Mondrian painting.
 
Mondrian himself was superficially influenced by Chinese philosophy and the balance of Yin and Yang although his paintings have become a-political symbols of Western Culture, vehicles intended for pure aesthetic pleasure. Yu’s insertion of a pop-cultural image of Mao into the Western cannon of Modern art gives the dictator’s aesthetic stamp of approval to Modernism as a valid movement. Yu’s work is also a subtle nod to earlier works by Wang Guangyi in which he contains his paintings within a grid of rationality, but instead he takes the grid of Modernism to frame his icon in a more playful light.
 
Foreign-Mao, Mondrian is a key example of Political Pop’s ironic ability to both exploit and reharmonize icons through post modern pastiche. Yu succeeds in re-empowering Chinese cultural icons and re- viving the traditional notion that art should integrate a philosophical world-view with the existing political order into a newly harmonized world order. Here, Yu paints Mao as a Pop Icon, in much the same way that Andy Warhol saw him. In many of his paintings, Yu places Mao on the same level as Marilyn Monroe, the Statue of Liberty and other Pop artists, influencing a younger generation of artists like Shi Xinning. Foreign Mao fuses Western and Eastern icons. Mao and Mondrian become equals here in the march of cultural history.

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