The works in Yan Pei-Ming face à Courbet in which Pei-Ming’s paintings sit cheek by jowl with Courbet’s in the permanent collections of the Petit Palais were originally among those included in the exhibition at Ornans to celebrate the bicentenary of Courbet’s birth. Like Courbet, Pei-Ming doesn’t care for conventions. In fact, both are interested in moving against the tide and representing the reality of the world as it is, not as it might ideally be seen or become. Seeing the two artists’ work cheekily intermingled on the walls of the Petit Palais, makes both artists’ paintings more powerful and more resonant than Pei-Ming’s appropriation of Courbet’s imagery and content for his own mother’s funeral inthe Musée d’Orsay.
|Yan Pei-Ming, L'artiste à 58 ans, Gustave Courbet, 2019|
|Yan Pei-Ming, Oncle aveugle, 2019|
It’s difficult to look at Courbet’s self-portraits today and not see someone who is completely obsessed with himself. His self-promotion and apparent self-confidence is not something I would ordinarily associate with Yan Pei-Ming, an artist who painted the Tiananmen Square massacre and regularly critiques the ever-growing tentacles of capitalism. Or the one who carefully depicts the most intimate moments of his family's life. Nevertheless, while much of Pei-Ming’s subject matter might be that of someone with more humility than Courbet professes in his continual return to his own image, Pei-Ming isn’t so self-effacing; that he stridently links his own image to that of Courbet’s is evidence of his assuredness. Furthermore, here at the Petit Palais, the two artists stare, face to face, from either end of the gallery. The sense of his own importance might be ironic in Pei-Ming’s self-portraits, but his confidence is unshakeable. Pei-Ming’s often oversized paintings, are also striking for their confident use of a varied grey palette and multiple techniques.
|Yan Pei-Ming, Wild Game, The Way of the Crocodiles, 2011|
Pei-Ming’s paintings at the Petit Palais are surrounded by Courbet’s realist canvases such as Firemen running to a blaze, 1877, and others, including the enormous work by Lhermitte, Les Halles , 1889. Seeing them side by side with these 19th century gems, we are reminded that Courbet was the man of the people. Like Yan Pei-Ming, he deigned to paint the realist hustle and bustle of the streets, the everyday world. And Pei-Ming is as audacious as Courbet in his claim for his own right to be shown among the greats. The toppled statue at Vendôme, a touching painting of Pei-Ming’s blind uncle, a barely identifiable prostitute and the artist’s young mother, place the working classes that drove revolutionary France, and those that inspired Pei-Ming in his own struggle with revolution and communism in China, hand in hand. Ultimately, this small exhibition remind us how both painters challenge convention in the same unforgiving way in the interests of advancing the voice of the masses.
Photographie : Clérin - Morin © Yan Pei-Ming, ADAGP, Paris, 2019.