Alumna Yuri Yuan '21 in solo show at Alexander Berggruen

An electric fragility surrounds Dark Dreams, a solo show by Yuri Yuan ’21, at Alexander Berggruen gallery on the Upper East Side.

Mădălina Telea Borteș
October 10, 2022

An electric fragility surrounds Dark Dreams, a solo show by Yuri Yuan ’21, at Alexander Berggruen gallery on the Upper East Side. It begins with Nightmare (48” x 72”, oil on linen, 2022), the first painting one encounters upon entering the gallery, and the effect continues throughout, until Snow Storm (60” x 48”, oil on canvas, 2022), which is a painting that hangs just by the gallery attendants’ desk and depicts a ski lift scene that is equal parts enchanting and frighteningly ablaze with a pastel-neon pink sky.  

For this series, as the gallery’s press release notes, Yuan portrays “idiosyncratic scenes directly inspired by her own distinct dreams and the moments immediately after waking from them in which the boundaries between reality and dreamscape are blurred.” 

That blurring is most apparent in Wanderlust (48” x 36”, oil on linen, 2022) and The Storm in Me (36” x 48”, oil on linen, 2022), two works set opposite each other that seem to suggest a deeply underwritten engagement with the themes often found in Yuan’s work: mental health and “the importance of reflection and solitude,” as Yuan told us.

Having spent most of her time in Columbia’s Visual Arts program during the Covid pandemic, Yuan intentionally “took classes outside of Visual Arts, such as philosophy and writing,” and participated in the Interdisciplinary Arts Council. These experiences supported Yuan’s proclivity toward an interdisciplinary approach to painting and art making in general.    

“I would say the Columbia MFA program is not a place where you learn how to paint, but how to be an artist,” Yuan explained. “Instead of giving me a solution, my professors taught me how to find a solution, a skill I can use for the rest of my life as an artist. The flexibility of the program gave me the space to freely explore and not be bound by a certain style.” 

Indeed, the works that comprise Dark Dreams are varied in style, often quite varied from one another, and they each propose a problem to contend with. For instance, in The Blue of Distance (20” x 24”, oil on linen, 2022) one may fascinate on how Yuan manages to embed glimmer and pigment into linen with such expertise that even when observed from a precariously close distance, the paint strokes are nearly invisible. Or, one may pick up the “Easter eggs” Yuan leaves in her work, “such as the shadow of the ferryman in Will You Remember Me (72’’ x 60’’, oil on linen, 2022) and the cows in Wanderlust (48’’ x 36’’, oil on linen, 2022).”

We had a chance to catch Yuan in the gallery, and she pointed out that beside being rich in direct engagement with symbolism and slivers from other media, such as each of the eyes in Metamorphosis (72” x 68”, oil on linen, 2022), the show is also intentionally “fragmented because dreams are fragmented.” 

Yuan leaves no accidents on the canvas, this much is clear; but what is also apparent is the degree of care Yuan exacts in her works, a degree that is there to “encourage a way of active and thorough thinking. A way of thinking, that’s what I want to be known for.” 

The show will remain open to the public until October 12. 

Yuri Yuan ’21 lives and works in New York. She is represented by Alexander Berggruen Gallery in New York, NY, and Make Room Gallery in Los Angeles, CA. Dark Dreams is her fourth solo show. Her works are in the public collections of Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego, CA.