Suyi Xu, Through A Glass Darkly, 2021. Oil on canvas, 36x30 inches ©Suyi Xu, Photograph by Xi Zhou, courtesy of Fou Gallery
Fou Gallery announces New York-based artist Suyi Xu's All that is Solid Melts into Air, will be on display from September 24th to December 18th, 2022. It is Xu’s first exhibition with Fou Gallery that features thirteen paintings from 2020 to 2022 that depict interiors and figures with historical references and idiosyncratic symbolic elements, as a direct response to the spiritual crisis of contemporary existence.
Xu believes in Baudelaire’s notion of art in The Painter of Modern Life: beauty simultaneously possesses an eternal, “invariable element” and a “circumstantial element” that reflects the contingencies of the time; and a work of art should be both timely and eternal. She juxtaposes spaces, architecture, and interiors that negate time with imagery infused with contemporary feelings. She draws historical references from Dutch golden age painters like Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, and modernist painters like Édouard Manet, and Edward Hopper while developing her subject matter, composition, and perspective, which are informed by contemporary culture—such as an antique cinema that displays a crowded New York subway scene (Through a Glass Darkly, 2021); the Daru staircase in the Louvre leading up to a statue of a suffering figure (The Unwinged Surrender of Kneeling Youth, 2022); and a corner of her apartment in Brooklyn (Consulting Shadows - Study of Hammershoi, 2022).
Suyi Xu, All that is Solid Melts into Air, 2020. Oil on canvas, 28x22 inches ©Suyi Xu, Photograph by Xi Zhou, coutesy of Fou Gallery
Xu Suyi considers Korean-born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han's book The Agony of Eros as one of the most important theoretical bases for her work. The book considers the threat to love in today's society. As Han suggests, catastrophes that upend ordinary life tend to present opportunities for one to come into contact with the wholly Other. The imminence of death, then, offers the good fortune of escape and absence from oneself and opens one up to the possibility of love. Xu’s work, in a way, is to understand, with the hope to resolve the crisis of love – threatened by the complete elimination of "others'' in our increasingly individualized and narcissistic society. The female protagonists in Xu's paintings are always on the threshold between longing and despair; pleasure and punishment. Unlike a lot of contemporary artists born after the 1990s, who draw inspiration from fast-paced social media or mass media news, Xu Suyi seeks ideas of image-making from classic sources - literature, philosophy, old master paintings, cinema, and fashion photography. She carefully titles her work - in the hope that the title would open up a string of additional visual references that lie adjacent to the painting that she created.
Suyi Xu, A Woman under the Influence, 2021. Oil on canvas, 72x48 inches ©Suyi Xu, Photograph by Xi Zhou, courtesy of Fou Gallery
Suyi Xu, Fidelio, 2021. Oil on canvas, 64x48 inches ©Suyi Xu, Photograph by Xi Zhou, courtesy of Fou Gallery
For instance, Fidelio (2021), a surrealistic portrait, is a direct response to Han's argument of love and suffering. Inspired by a runway photo of Vivienne Westwood from the late 1990s and the Great Hall of The Metropolitan Museum of Art , the work refers to Stanley Kubrick's last film Eyes Wide Shut (1999) in which the protagonist wandered into a mansion where the highest-ranked social elites gather to engage in satanic rituals and debauchery. The password to enter the house is “Fidelio,” a German word from the title of Beethoven’s opera where a woman saved her lover by giving up her life. The painting, according to Xu, is "about sacrifice, about undercurrents of violence behind facades of beauty, and the fetishization of power in sex due to an ultimate lack of power." Another painting featuring a female protagonist - Belladonna (2022) is a contemporary appropriation of Madonna Surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim (1454–1456) by French court painter Jean Fouquet. Xu carefully depicts a detailed view of the bold and contemporary looking Virgin Mary and places it at the curved dome of an imaginary architectural space inspired by the monumental Daru staircase at the Louvre. The 2200-year-old Winged Victory of Samothrace, one of the most famous statues at the Louvre is replaced by a dauntless Virgin Mary in Xu’s painting. The title of the work, Belladonna, is the female archetype in T. S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland. The word also means a poisonous plant that has been used as a medicine since ancient times. “Beautiful women” of Renaissance Italy took it to enlarge their pupils, which they found more alluring.
Suyi Xu, Belladonna, 2022. Oil on linen, 48x36 inches ©Suyi Xu, Photograph by Xi Zhou, courtesy of Fou Gallery
Suyi Xu, Consulting Lights(Study of Rembrandt/Removing the figure), 2022. Oil on linen, 14x11 inches ©Suyi Xu, Photograph by Xi Zhou, courtesy of Fou Gallery
In some of her most recent works, Xu attempts to remove the figures as an effort to “activate each space on the canvas.” Consulting Lights (Study of Rembrandt/removing the figure) (2022) is a study after Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn's A Scholar in A Lofty Room ("Saint Anastasius") (1631). Xu removes the musing scholar from the canvas and allows the space that embraces the figure to be the subject. In the end, the cave itself – with filtered rays through a curved window, shadows on the asymmetrical arch, and dust motes on the rough ground – becomes the center of attention. Study of Ochre (2022) and Study of Violet (2022) are two small works on linen that reflect on the interior of the Louvre. Xu spares no effort to paint the color of each brick in the space with subtle variations in tones and hues. Surprisingly, viewers of her work keep telling her "the architecture has a bodily presence that looks like flesh."
Xu Suyi brought us into a mystical world and gently closed the door behind. The artist's work is thus complete, and the rest can only be assimilated through the viewer’s experience and imagination. Brushed with layers of oil paints to allow forms to build up over time, her paintings engage viewers across time and space. Only with slow and contemplative gaze that one can observe how the artist swims merrily amongst abstract shapes and colors. Eventually, one can finally identify the rays of light that are contoured by the dust motes dancing within. Eros and Thanatos walk by each other—their encounter prescribed in light and dust in a space beyond time.
(*The press release is based on an essay written by Echo He, with editorial assistance from Angela Chang, Zong Xiao and Kevin Wu. The complete essay is available in the digital catalogue on Fou Gallery’s website.)
About the artist
Suyi Xu (b. 1996, Shanghai, China) is a painter who currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, Xu earned her B.F.A. in Art History and Visual Arts from Barnard College (New York) and her M.F.A. in the Fine Arts Department of School of Visual Arts (New York) in 2022. Xu’s paintings are meditations on space, interiors, and architecture that morphs into meditations on color fields. Xu has participated in several exhibitions in commercial galleries and non-profit organizations in the U.S. and Europe, including group shows at New Collectors Gallery (London, 2021), Boomer Gallery (London, 2021) and A.I.R. Gallery (New York, 2021). All that is Solid Melts into Air (Fou Gallery, New York, 2022) is her first solo exhibition in New York.
About the exhibition
Opening: September 24, 2022, 4–8 pm
Curator: Echo He Curatorial Assistant: Melissa Yihui Yin
Curator & Artist’s talk: September 24, 5 pm
Courtesy of Fou Gallery.