Summer Shows to See: Yan Pei-Ming

Ukraine president Zelensky as interpreted by Yang Peng-Ming

Until September 3: YAN PEI-MING. Palazzo Strozzi. Open daily 10 am to 8 pm, extended hours until 11 pm on Thursday.  Admission: €16.

A retrospective dedicated to Yan Pei-Ming, born in Shanghai in 1960 and later relocating to France in 1980, opened at Palazzo Strozzi as the largest Italian exhibition ever dedicated to the Franco-Chinese artist. Known primarily for his oil paintings, Pei-Ming also branches into watercolor, as evidenced by his notable TIME magazine covers featuring portraits of prominent figures such as Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky. His wide-range of artistic identity is best described in his own words, “I presume I am a Chinese and European artist, but I am first and foremost an artist.”

Curated by Arturo Galansino, the exhibition features over 30 of Pei-Ming’s works, inviting visitors to delve into the artist’s canvases. Palazzo Strozzi, known for its efforts to provide an avenue for prominent modern artists in a city so dominated by art history, along with Pei Ming’s distinctive style, which blends history and contemporaneity, come together to form a seemingly serendipitous pair.

The exhibition spans across seven different rooms, each curated to highlight specific themes and narratives within Yan Pei-Ming’s body of work. One room is dedicated to the artist’s mother, paying homage to the profound influence she had on his life and artistic expression.  Another room explores the rich tapestry of art histories, where viewers witness reinterpretations of venerated works. “I am interested in the great painters; I keep finding nourishment in their works,” said Pei-Ming. The interpretations change the focus of the original piece, such as in Exécution, Après Goya where Pei-Ming removes the dead bodies from Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808, instead choosing to emphasize “those who resist.”

Additionally, one of the most notable highlights of the exhibition is a trilogy of paintings based on famous photographs depicting crucial moments in modern Italian political history, two of which were created this year. “The current events I describe will one day become examples of history painting,” said Pei-Ming. Two of the paintings portray the discover of famous Italian intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini’s body on the beach and former Prime Minister Aldo Moro’s corpse in the trunk following his murder by the Brigate Rosse respectively. The rendering of the two events appears abstract from up close, with the discovery of Pasolini being portrayed in grayscale while Moro is depicted in the deep reds that have become characteristic of Pei-Ming’s work. However, from a distance the images become clearer, a reflection of the distance necessary for recent historical events to truly be processed and understood.

Palazzo Strozzi continues in their efforts to make contemporary art accessible in Florence, their partnership with Trenitalia offers CartaFreccia members, in possession of a Frecce ticket with a destination to Florence dated within five days before their exhibition visit, a “two for the price of one” deal.

“Yan Pei-Ming: Painting Histories” exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi presents a remarkable departure from the city’s conventional artistic landscape. Unlike the incredible yet familiar art found in Florence, Yan Pei-Ming’s interpretation of historical art challenges expectations.  More information regarding the exhibition can be found on the website. (Jonah Foster)