Sun, Jan 12, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Abstract roadmaps

The Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts is currently holding a retrospective exhibition on the life and work of Taiwan-born, New York-based artist Marlene Tseng Yu

By Susan Kendzulak  /  Contributing reporter

Artist Marlene Tseng Yu speaks at her opening early last month at KMFA.

photo: susan kendzulak

Marlene Tseng Yu (虞曾富美) is exhibiting 50 years of her artwork at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts (KMFA). The exhibition of large-scale acrylic paintings titled Forces of Nature and Dream Series: Fifty Years of Creation by Marlene Tseng Yu runs until March 2.

The exhibition is part of a series, launched by KMFA in 2012, featuring Kaohsiung artists. Even though Yu was born in Hualien in 1937, her family home was in Meinong, in today’s Greater Kaohsiung. While her childhood was spent in the south of Taiwan, she moved to Taipei to study art at National Taiwan Normal University, becoming the first female from Meinong to go to university, which created quite a stir in her hometown as it was thought at the time that only boys should receive higher education. She moved to the US in the 1960s, attending graduate school at the University of Colorado and has been based in New York since 1969.

For her 50 year retrospective, Yu and the Museum had to choose from over 4,000 works of art, whittling it down to a small selection of approximately 50 paintings which is arranged thematically under four sections: Environmental Green Movement in Art; Beyond and Beneath; Forces of Nature and Dream Series.

Yu’s Dream Series of rotund headless female figures and mythological beasts tend to specifically provide answers rather than raise questions, much like how a book illustration fills in the story for the reader. Yu is at her best and most awe-inspiring with her large-scale abstract paintings which are filled with mystery and motion, rather than the explicit spell-everything-out figurative works.

Yu’s Glacier Melting Series (begun in 1965) best exemplify what she excels at, which is using the brush techniques of Chinese ink painting combined with the dynamic force and scale of Abstract Expressionist painting. In the long scroll-like painting Black and White Cracked Ice (305cm x 1128cm), Yu uses broad black outlines to delineate the shapes of a glacier, allowing splatters of black ink to create rhythmic skeletal-like patterns between the gray tonal washes and the flat white shapes. Her ease of handling wide areas of black and white in a flowing movement is on par with a Franz Kline painting. The sheer mural-sized scale of the painting evokes feelings of expanse and wonder, which is often triggered by standing in front of breathtaking natural environments such as mountains, canyons and waterfalls.

Exhibition Notes

What: Forces of Nature and Dream Series: 50 Years of Creation by Marlene Tseng Yu

When: Until March 2. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9am to 5pm. Tel: (07) 555-0331

Where: Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, 80 Meishuguan Rd, Greater Kaohsiung (高雄市美術館路80號)

On the Net: www.kmfa.gov.tw


In works like Seaweed Floating, the overall patterning and built-up application of pigment makes it appear three-dimensional from a distance, and reveals the artist’s hand under closer inspection. Yu’s mastery is in the combination of the macro and the micro: the long-distance overview hints at a landscape or the cosmos, while the close-up creates more emotional and interior thoughts.

Like the mid-19th century Hudson River School of painters, who were humbled by the immense force of the natural landscape, Yu too is overwhelmed by the vastness of nature and of the cosmos. As New York critic Donald Kuspit writes in her catalog for the exhibition: “Identifying with nature, Yu finds her own identity — comes into her own as an authentic self.”

Yu’s large paintings not only help her to self-identify, but also act as roadmaps for viewers to help find their way in the mind-boggling cosmos.

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