Taking her inspiration from the Tao Te Ching, Xuan paper artist Lin Yan recreates her own world in her latest exhibition at Fou Gallery, New York.

Art Radar reviews the site-specific exhibition in the Brooklyn apartment gallery.

Lin Yan: Gateway. Fou Gallery, New York. 2 December 2017 to 21 January 2018. Image courtesy Fou Gallery, New York.

Lin Yan: Gateway. Fou Gallery, New York. 2 December 2017 to 21 January 2018. Image courtesy Fou Gallery, New York.

In multiple English versions of the Tao Te Ching, the classic Chinese text popularly accredited to the philosopher Laozi, the word “gateway” appears. Forming the bedrock of the Taoist religion and philosophy, “gateway” is a word often used to imply a passage to revelations and marvels in life. Proverbial Chinese wisdom also alludes to implications of entrances and gateways: often used in the context of the experience of achievements and learning from everyday experiences, the notion of the gateway is often tied to ideas of growing, learning and access to greater enlightenment in Chinese culture.

Lin Yan’s (b. 1961, Beijing, China) latest exhibition “Gateway” at Fou Gallery ties together the conceptual and physical notions of a gateway together. Known for utilising the medium of traditional Xuan paper in her work, the exhibition features re-casts of multiple features of the brownstone apartment gallery, including the door of the gallery itself. Centering her show around the main space of Fou Gallery, the exhibition highlights specific architectural characteristics whilst also creating ghostly, almost surreal, parallel counterparts to the space itself.

Lin Yan, 'Temperature Difference', 2017. Ink and Xuan paper, 93 x 87 x 5 cm. ©2017 Lin Yan, Courtesy Fou Gallery

Lin Yan, ‘Temperature Difference’, 2017, ink and Xuan paper, 93 x 87 x 5 cm. ©2017 Lin Yan, Courtesy Fou Gallery.

Lin Yan’s works have been shown at various venues, including The National Art Museum in China (Beijing), White Rabbit Gallery(Sydney) and the Dresden State Art Collection in Germany. Her works are also included in many of the permanent collections of public institutions such as the Chengdu Contemporary Art Museum, Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (Beijing), Long Museum (Shanghai), and the National Museum of China (Beijing). Born to a family of artists, Lin Yan is the granddaughter of Pang Xunqin and Qiu Ti, who are known as pioneers of Chinese modern art today. Lin Yan is a graduate of the Central Academy of Fine Arts as well as the L’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France.

Lin Yan, 'Dubhe - 天杵", 2017, ink and Xuan paper. Installation view at MOCA Yinchuan. Image courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art, Yinchuan.

Lin Yan, ‘Dubhe (Tianshu 天枢)’, site-specific installation, dimensions variable, Xuan paper, ink and string light, 2017. ©2017 Lin Yan, courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan, China.

Much of Lin Yan’s practice is grounded in the formal properties of Xuan paper. A type of rice paper first produced during the Tang Dynasty in China, it was used for writing and painting. Soft and highly textured, Lin Yan has been using Xuan paper for much of her career. In 2013, she began incorporating the paper in site-specific installations in public and alternative art spaces, responding to the architecture of these sites. Xuan paper, to her, “resonates with my painterly sensation, and passion for space and colour. The simple, primitive and imperfect quality of handmade paper penetrates one’s heart.” Many of her projects utilise Xuan paper, sometimes stained with black ink, to create large-scale installations that intervene meaningfully into the space that they are in. Some of her previous projects include Sky #2, a voluminous, hanging black paperwork sculpture that commented on the state of pollution in Beijing. A similar work, Dubhe – 天杵 (2017), was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Yinchuan for the exhibition “Crisscrossing East and West”.

“Gateway” combines site-specific installations with certain standalone sculptural works. The mainstay of the exhibition is a large paper re-cast of the gallery’s double doors, hung next to the actual door itself. Entitled Gateway (2017), the paper door is a spectral equivalent, almost alluding to a different, spiritual world that is harder to sense but no less present than the material world.

Lin Yan, 'Gateway', 2017, ink and Xuan paper, 310 x 190 cm. Installation view. Image courtesy Fou Gallery, New York. Photo: Eugene Nedev.

“Lin Yan: Gateway”, installation View, 2017. Photograph by Eugene Neduv. © 2017 Lin Yan, courtesy Fou Gallery.

In some ways, the exhibition offers peeks into the more spiritual elements of Lin Yan’s practice. Other elements that Lin Yan chose to recast included the radiator and windows; the vernacular elements of the gallery that Lin Yan’s art highlights reflects a sensitivity to the notion of everyday wisdom and understanding that stems from her inspiration from Taoist and Chinese philosophy. Yet, the very replication of these spatial elements in white, fragile paper that hang from the walls and ceilings of the gallery evoke the notion of a separate dimension that is only barely visible, or accessible.

Part of this effect may well be intentional: Lin Yan’s work constantly searches for the more sensitive side of sprawling cities caught between the human side of life, and rapid modernisation and commercialisation. By creating a softer, more surreal environment, Gateway hints at a more soulful, introspective realm tucked in corners of the urban milieu.

'Lin Yan: Gateway' Installation View, 2017. Photograph by Eugene Neduv. ©2017 Lin Yan, courtesy Fou Gallery

“Lin Yan: Gateway”, installation View, 2017. Photograph by Eugene Neduv. ©2017 Lin Yan, courtesy Fou Gallery.

Other works on show include a series created from found bricks on the sidewalks of Brooklyn. Recreating the bricks in paper, and illuminating them with string lights from the inside out, Lin Yan calls attention to one off-beat detail: that bricks in Brooklyn are stamped with the word “Empire” on them. Entitled Sparse Dream in Brooklyn, the work can be read as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the so-called ‘city of dreams’, laced with a tinge of ironic cynicism.

Lin Yan, 'Spares Dreaming Brooklyn'

Lin Yan, ‘Sparse Dream in Brooklyn’, 2017. © 2017 Lin Yan, courtesy Fou Gallery.

Other smaller works include Drizzling #4 (2017), where delicate lines of Xuan paper protrude from sheetrock board. Go (2016) borrows its name from the soft impression of the same word in the centre of the work, a seemingly plaintive directive found in the city.

Lin Yan, Drizzling #4, 2017, Xuan paper and ink on sheetrock board, 30 x 30 x 5 cm. ©2017 Lin Yan, courtesy Fou Gallery.

Lin Yan, Drizzling #4, 2017, Xuan paper and ink on sheetrock board, 30 x 30 x 5 cm. © 2017 Lin Yan, courtesy Fou Gallery.


Lin Yan, ‘Go’, 2016, Xuan paper, ink and wax, 37 x 33 x 5 cm. © 2017 Lin Yan, Courtesy Fou Gallery

Operating at the intersection of urban living, human life and cultural traditions, “Gateway” brings together these disparate notions whilst also highlighting the formal elements of the artist’s chosen medium.

Junni Chen


“Lin Yan: Gateway” is on view from 2 December 2017 to 21 January 2018 at Fou Gallery, 410 Jefferson Avenue #1, Brooklyn, NY 11221.

Related topics: Chinese artists, ink art, gallery shows, feature, painting, events in New York

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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