Marlene Tseng Yu


Date: 08.02.2008 - 04.05.2008

One clear reason that Chinese art has entered the forefront of today’s art market, museum and gallery exhibition plans and art reviews is the fact that it enriches contemporary cultural discourse, which is focused on codes of recent years, months, weeks or even days, with ideas, energies and rhythms dating back to a millennia-old tradition.

The work of Chinese-born American painter Marlene Tseng Yu should be perceived in the given context as an expression that has for decades anticipated the new possibilities arising from the meeting and mutual enrichment of western and eastern cultures without having to draw on the poetic forms and models of late modern art. Her work’s attractiveness lay in the fact that the artist bypasses categories and systems constructed in response to the crisis-related phenomena of western civilization and, far more than her peers, maintains something that has been fading in recent decades – direct contact with the natural universe. Marlene Tseng Yu stepped onto the art scene in the 1960s, when American expressionism was winning a reputation as the most significant art trend of the 1950s and 60s. Abstract expressionism impressed many with its energetic colours, large-scale forms and freedom of syntax, enhancing the illusion that American art had succeeded in overcoming the dilemma of an aging Europe’s artistic trends. The greater the acceptance of abstract expressionism, the more profound the analyses of its character and origin, the more widely recognised its connections of the abstract and modern and the more pronounced the freedom of man in society and art. Much in abstract expressionism remained linked to creative revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In his 2005 study, major modern and contemporary U.S. art critic Donald Kuspit unsurprisingly sees Marlene Tseng Yu’s work as abstract painting’s return to one of the roots of abstraction – romanticism. It is romanticism that employs as central themes the need of creative self-consciousness liberated from the models and schemes of previous cultures, and the desire to connect with the infinite universe and find resonance, power and consolation in nature’s energies and forms. However, Marlene Tseng Yu’s entry onto the U.S. art scene displayed other rhythms and motivations than those of art based on romantic empathy with nature and the universe.

Nature has constituted an inherent element of the artist’s work from the start. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, this was reflected primarily in her texture, which followed the artworks of the late phase of abstract expressionism, though Tseng Yu simultaneously began to forge her approach of departing from the categories and relationships with respect to which art and the trauma of modern human existence had become complementary phenomena. Her brushwork and painting format forego much of what used to be the essence of romantic revolution. A painting is neither a hanging picture nor a mural, conventional forms of Western civilization’s traditions. It is a space on paper or canvas spread in a number of formats ranging from depicted shapes created by the artist in a single brush stroke to a size of several metres, resulting from the work of many brushes joined into one, over a metre wide and capable of recording movements of mass. Nevertheless, there is nothing oversize about the artist’s approach or her work. The theme and manner of communication between culture and nature organically follow the rhythm of the artist’s own work as well as her attitude to a natural world that is increasingly endangered as the development of civilization progresses. Although the melting of glaciers has become a key theme of Marlene Tseng Yu’s work in the last decade, she could hardly be called an environmental activist. She employs something more essential than the hysterical reaction of a confused society which, on the one hand, takes part in destroying the environment and abandoning its relationship to the natural world and, on the other, deepens the abyss between culture and nature by deliberately politicising environmental problems.

Today, Marlene Tseng Yu is answering some of the questions posed by Roger Caillois in his search for connections between different systems of culture and nature in an age of avant-garde faith in the future of technological progress. Caillois queried the value of manifestations of nature such as minerals, clouds or the wings of a butterfly in the world of modern technologies, and found an answer broader in time and meaning than that in which the contemporary avant-garde presence lay. Marlene Tseng Yu, too, moves on toward expressions that restore our relationship to nature in links reaching deep into the lasting processes of our ontogenesis. This includes irreplaceable values such as the infinite movement of mass or composition of our perceptions that not only inform the hand in the act of drawing or painting, but also reflect the perpetuation and transience of our place in the natural universe.

Permanent exhibitions

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