Yang Mai: Good Morning, China! (早上好,中国!) Curated by David Humphrey

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137­ West 25th Street New York, NY 10001

cuear tfoundation.org

YANG MAI Good Morning, China! (早上好,中国!) Curated by


Februar y 20 - March 25, 2020 1

Uprise 8, 9, & 10 ( 站起来 8, 9, & 10), 2019-20 Deadstock polo shirts, LED tube lights, metal, paint Dimensions variable



GOOD MORNING, CHINA! (早上好,中国!) Yang Mai

The majority of my family members are educators who work in China’s public school system. I grew up watching them dress formally and correctly for work. The repeated forms of their mass-produced clothing paralleled the institutional forces shaping our lives. My work is a response to this aspect of my upbringing, as well as a reaction to the 2019 Hong Kong protests. Through the language of sculpture, I strive to challenge those restrictive forms and begin to imagine new values and new ways of being in the world. In my previous exhibition, titled Made in China, I showed work that used mass-market elements to celebrate irregularity, oddity, and abnormality. Made in China referred to both the label on a product and to my generation, who grew up during China’s economic transformations of the 1990s. In my new body of work, I have been focusing on the possible functions that clothing can have in fashion or sculpture 4

and how to articulate these possibilities in the language of a gallery installation. Since the beginning of 2019, I have been collecting materials from a friend of my father, an owner of a closed-down clothing factory in Guangzhou, China, where there remains a large amount of deadstock that was neither sold nor used. I would like my work to stage the paradox that many Chinese people experience intimately: that the technologically advanced industrial world they are living in continues to be ordered by retrogressive thinking. I recreate garments to express this absurd yet necessarily symbiotic relationship between repressive social forces and the lived experience of a person. By removing commercial seriousness from industrial products and introducing playful or exaggerated features, this work hopes to encourage and celebrate our rebellious human nature and establish alternative symbols of our present reality.

Yang Mai is an artist born and raised in Guangzhou, China, and currently based in New York City. Mai holds a Master’s degree in Fashion, Body, and Garment from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2016) and a Bachelor’s degree in Footwear and Accessories Design from the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (2014). He was featured in a solo exhibition titled Made in China at Chashama Gallery, New York, NY, in 2017, and his work has been presented at New York Fashion Week in 2018 and 2019. He has participated in group exhibitions at Aqua Art Miami Fair, FL, 2018; Gallery MC, New York, NY, 2018; The Design Show, Chicago, IL, 2016; and a two-person exhibition at Sage Studios, Chicago, IL, 2016. His work has been included in The New York Times, WWD, Vogue, Esquire, and more.


DaVID HUMPHREY Curator-Mentor Unclothed bodies have found their way into art for centuries, but unbodied clothes less often. Yang Mai is changing that with new work that transforms shirts, pants, and jackets into outrageous assemblages. The simple presence of a garment in your closet or drawer obscures its complex life-itinerary from plant, animal, or synthetic fiber into cloth and manufactured form before distribution and purchase. Deadstock is the sad end for many garments but the beginning of a new life within Mai’s reanimating operations. He acquires large quantities of unsold material from his native China that he stitches, paints, and stuffs into anthropomorphic groups and monstrous hybrids to tell stories of the relationship between repressive social forces and the lived life of a person. These stories have special urgency for Mai in the context of his experience growing up in China and his feelings of solidarity with the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. A few of his pieces enact a kind of cooperative group behavior, while sometimes a single figure will irrupt from within, its foam 6

stuffing breaking out of the clothing in a kind of somatic civil disobedience. Stacks of folded garments become personages within a crowd of other stacks, while modified men’s black blazers link together to form threatening barriers. The social life of these works is comically fraught with the marks of conformity and resistance. They invite us to mingle amongst them as clothed peers within their unbodied society. David Humphrey is a New York artist who has shown nationally and internationally. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rome Prize, among other awards. An anthology of his art writing, Blind Handshake, was published by Periscope Publishing in 2010. He teaches in the MFA program at Columbia University and is represented by Fredericks & Freiser Gallery, NY.

UpRise 1 (站起来 1), 2019-20 Deadstock polo shirts, stainless steel balls, LED tube light, metal Dimensions variable


UpRise 2 (站起来 2), 2019-20 Deadstock polo shirts, stainless steel ball, paint, metal 97 x 19.5 x 19 inches


UpRise 3 (站起来 3), 2019-20 Deadstock polo shirts, tank tops, stainless steel balls, metal 100 x 18 x 10 inches


UpRise 5 (站起来 5) 2019-20 Deadstock polo shirts, stainless steel ball, chair, metal 86.5 x 19 x 33.5 inches


UpRise 4 (站起来 4) 2019-20 Deadstock polo shirts, chair, metal 93 x 32.5 x 28 inches


UpRise 6 (站起来 6) 2019-20 Deadstock polo shirts, chair, foam, metal 75 x 36 x 36 inches


UpRise 7 (站起来 7), 2019-20 Deadstock polo shirts, school uniform, paint 13 x 14 x 20 inches



Where's Happiness 1 (幸福在哪里 1), 2019-20 Chinese school uniforms, paint, foam, PVC pipe Dimensions variable


Shhh! 1 (嘘! 1), 2019-20 Clothes, paint, foam, PVC pipe Dimensions variable


Shhh! 2 (嘘! 2), 2019-20 Chinese school uniforms, paint, foam, PVC pipe Dimensions variable


Where's Happiness 2 (幸福在哪里 2), 2019-20 Chinese school uniform pants, foam, PVC pipe Dimensions variable




Made in China, 2016 Clothes, paint, foam, gold leaf, silver leaf, metal Dimensions variable


Made in China, 2016 Clothes, paint, foam, gold leaf, silver leaf, metal Dimensions variable



UnIFORM, FrEE-FORM Gaby Collins-Fernandez

Yang Mai’s work asks us to submit to the terms of apparel. Nowhere is this clearer than in his studio, which I visited twice as he prepared for this exhibition. The space bursts with clothing in varying stages of conversion from raw material to finished sculpture. In the middle of the room were groups of business suits, sportswear, and school clothes, stiffened, painted, filled with spray foam, and arranged in constantly fluctuating configurations. Between these were sculptures comprising neatly stacked polo shirts, purposefully drab columns interrupted by off-kilter plastic spheres and fluorescent tube lights. Older sculptures— cylindrical trouser legs—leaned against one corner like lumber. Several large boxes packed 24

with jeans and jackets lined the room, and Mai expected another shipment soon, uniforms this time. Mai grew up in Guangzhou, China, and studied fashion design there, specializing in accessories. His original ambition was to work with underground fashion designers, as far away from rote commercialism and predictable design as possible, but by graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the purely sartorial had lost its appeal. No matter how radical the design, a shirt has to work as a shirt if you want someone to wear it. Fashion is regularly used to both self-expressive and affiliative ends. But clothes are also a

Made in China, 2016 Clothes, paint, foam, gold leaf, silver leaf, metal 25 Dimensions variable

Detail of Where's Happiness 1 (幸福在哪里 1), 2019-20 Chinese school uniforms, paint, foam, PVC pipe Dimensions variable

Mai uses clothing to discuss kind of prison, which create archetypes, control, and the legible systems of social control possibility of freedom. The and physical restriction. In our conversations, Mai stressed how three sit in a tense relationship, uniforms imbue their wearer with uneasy yet codependent. Mai incorporates rigidity into the particular roles and authority visual language of his work—there (or lack thereof). He related this to his upbringing in China, and are times when his garments feel more like shells than fabric. to a certain extent, the societal But he also uses the structural codification he experienced characteristics endemic to there. Uniforms were used these clothes as opportunities to communicate social roles to reconsider them as objects. and their attendant behavioral Although his garments remain expectations: “student,” “teacher,” “worker.” At SAIC, Mai recognizable as types (like “blazer") and communicate their discovered that that he could symbolic identities (as a specific name the constraints of fashion school’s uniform jacket), the and effectively criticize them— sculptures engage the formal through art. 26

opportunities and limitations of garments, rather than allowing their archetypal significations to determine composition and content.

sequined or dipped in candycolored paint, which directly engage the relationship between the manufacturing of clothing and the expressiveness of art. The viewer is encouraged to see In Where's Happiness 1 (幸福在哪 each sculpture as bifurcated—as 里 1), traditional Chinese school both pants and art; machine uniforms are individually inflated produced and individually and hardened with spray foam, adorned. then assembled into color-coded chains and balanced against Mai’s new works focus on similar each other. Each chain of three themes while integrating these or four garments is partially differences in order to create painted with transparent washes causal relationships between of one hue predominant in the the sculptures’ forms and the original fabric—yellow, green, gestures they perform. For orange, or blue. This establishes example, a sculpture comprising visual continuity without denying several khaki pant-legs that some differently colored painted silver suggests organic areas have been coerced into generation as a compositional assimilation with paint. Coercion strategy, rather than emphasizing plays a role in their connection as the industrial facture of the well: the garments are sewn and garments. Each leg emerges glued together at their orifices, like an intergalactic succulent forced together at holes for arms, from the waist or leg openings legs, and torsos. In Where's of other trousers, reaching up Happiness 1 (幸福在哪里 1), these and down with an awkward formal manipulations encourage sturdiness. The sculpture associative readings that free appears to make itself, like a root, the garments from adhering to rebelling against its machinetheir roles as uniforms, relying made origins. In this light, Mai’s on metaphor to undermine work proposes aesthetics as a the garments’ conventional means toward radical freedom uses. I see limbs and torsos from the perspective of clothes: reaching out to each other, as if liberation from having to be filled in desperation, rigid ecstasy, or by bodies, a refusal to participate as a snapshot of teams midway in commercial distribution, and through a bizarre stretching the request to be considered on competition. The effect is darkly their own terms. humorous, somewhere between an exaggerated round of Twister This is a funny freedom. Within and a cheerful group torture the terms of fashion there is not session. a lot of room for autonomous garments; they are always Made in China, Mai’s previous presented on and in relation body of work, featured tautly to the body. And although stuffed trouser legs, sometimes the structures of the design, 27

manufacturing, and distribution their own forms, prioritizing their of clothing are much vaster own dimensions, the effects of than any individual, they remain fabric and mobility of seams over relative to human scale because, human joints, flesh, and bones. like any commodity, they must The spray foam that hardens appeal to human desires. Mai’s their interiors may be ungainly, sculptures don’t deny the fact and may emphasize the void-ish that their source materials were emptiness of a garment’s interior, originally made for humans. In but it allows them to be seen their final arrangements, they outside of their use for humans. often resemble cartoon bodies or stick figures. But despite their Still, within the sculptures’ residual anthropomorphism, the configurations lurks an existential garments feel as though they gloom. They strive, emerge, and don’t need us—or our systems— grow, but toward what? The anymore. They have made do on figures appear to compete, but their own, begun to create their at what game? What would it own forms of association and mean to win? Mai’s sculptures expression, as art. Their physical acknowledge that freedom contours may have been decided comes as a reaction to forces in relation to human form, but of control, here enacted by the their permutations and growths recognizability of silhouettes perform perversions of this and costume. There is no liberty origin. They germinate, contort, without constraints to be freed and spread with the logic of from, after all.


This essay was written as part of the Art Critic Mentoring Program, a partnership between AICA-USA (US section of International Association of Art Critics) and CUE, which pairs emerging writers with AICA-USA mentors to produce original essays on a specific exhibiting artist. Please visit aicausa.org for more information on AICA-USA, or cueartfoundation.org to learn how to participate in this program. Any quotes are from interviews with the author unless otherwise specified. No part of this essay may be reproduced without prior consent from the author. Lilly Wei is AICA’s Coordinator for the program this season.

Gaby Collins-Fernandez is an artist living and working in New York City, whose work has been shown both in the US and internationally. She is a recipient of residencies at Yaddo (Saratoga Springs, NY) and the Marble House Project (Dorset, VT), and was awarded a 2013 Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Art Award. Collins-Fernandez is also a writer about art, a co-founder and publisher of the annual magazine Precog, and a co-director of the artist-run art and music initiative BombPop!Up.

Mentor William Fenstermaker is an art critic based in New York and an editor at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has written catalogue essays on Pierre Huyghe (de Young Museum, 2020) and Shen Fan (Eli Klein Gallery, 2018), and his writings on art, politics, and culture have been published by Artforum, BOMB, The Brooklyn Rail, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Paris Review, Surface, and more. Fenstermaker was formerly a reviews editor of The Brooklyn Rail. He holds an MFA in art criticism and writing from New York's School of Visual Arts, and is currently a board member and treasurer of the US chapter of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA-USA).


CUE Art Foundation is a visual arts center dedicated to creating essential career and educational opportunities for artists of all ages. Through exhibitions, arts education, and public programs, CUE provides artists, writers, and audiences with sustaining, meaningful experiences and resources. CUE’s exhibition program aims to present new and exceptionally strong work by under-recognized and emerging artists based in the United States, and is committed to exhibiting work of all disciplines.


This exhibition is a winning selection from the 2019-20 Open Call for Solo Exhibitions. The proposal was unanimously selected by a panel comprised of curator Marcela Guerrero, artist and critic David Humphrey, curator Michelle Yun, and curator Daniel J Sander. In line with CUE’s commitment to providing substantive professional development opportunities, panelists also serve as mentors to the exhibiting artists, providing support throughout the process of developing the exhibition. We are honored to work with David Humphrey as the curator-mentor to Yang Mai.



Theodore S. Berger Kate Buchanan Vernon Church Marcy Cohen Blake Horn Thomas K.Y. Hsu Steffani Jemison John S. Kiely Vivian Kuan Lionel Leventhal Rachel Maniatis Christen Martosella Aliza Nisenbaum Kyle Sheahen Lilly Wei Gregory Amenoff, Emeritus

Polly Apfelbaum Katie Cercone Lynn Crawford Ian Cooper Michelle Grabner Eleanor Heartney Trenton Doyle Hancock Pablo Helguera Paddy Johnson Deborah Kass Sharon Lockhart Juan Sรกnchez Lilly Wei Andrea Zittel Irving Sandler (in memoriam)

STAFF Corina Larkin Executive Director Beatrice Wolert-Weese Deputy Director Lilly Hern-Fondation Programs Manager Sharmistha Ray Development Manager Josephine Heston Programs Associate


CUE Art Foundation's programs are made possible with the generous support of foundations, government agencies, corporations, and individuals. MAJOR PROGRAMMATIC SUPPORT PROVIDED BY The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Anholt Services (USA), Inc. Aon PLC Chubb

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP Clifford Chance

Compass Group Management LLC Merrill Corporation

The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, Inc. The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation

New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts


All ar twork © Yang Mai. Cover image: Break-mold (锁链), 2019-20. Made in China photography by James Prinz. Catalogue design by Lilly Hern-Fondation.

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