Artist’s toy becomes legend

An edited version has been published at Sydney TAFE media website.

Where do the world leaders go when they are retired? 

“Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Old Person’s Home” is now showing at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation as part of Go Figure! Chinese Contemporary Portraiture exhibition curated by Dr Claire Roberts, showing 55 pieces from the prominent Uli Sigg Collection of contemporary Chinese art from 1979. 

“I just wanted to make a toy for me to play, and surprisingly people liked it a lot.” Sun Yuan, the artist of the Old Person’s Home simply pointed out.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu Old Persons Home 2007, showing at SCAF as part of Go Figure! exhibition

You all heard about it and now you see them at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation: 13 wheel-chaired over-aged “men” in suits and ties or uniforms roaming about aimlessly, bumping into each other and getting tangled from time to time. Each time they make a creaking noise lingering long after you hear them and send the gallery people rushing to the rescue. They instantly remind you of someone, someone high level enough to be at the UN debate or at Israel Palestinian negotiations. But what you can see here is what is left of these “world leaders”, old, frail and dying. At a closer look, you realize they are just lifelike human sculptures made in silica gel and you start to get the piercing irony.

It is interesting to observe how people react when they just came into the gallery. From shock to confusion, from amusement to fascination, and then they would take out a camera or mobile phone to take photos or video. A few persistent visitors would hang around for a long time, trying to figure out how the thing works: what the material is, how the mechanics work and how the sensors stop the dummies to bump into the visitors… But visually, it is all confronting, plus a good flavour of playfulness and satire.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu Old Persons Home 2007, Go Figure! at SCAF

When asked “how did this dea come to you?” Sun Yuan gave a wry smile and said, “You know, this question is the most common one an artist often get asked but is also the hardest to answer, because there wasn’t really a moment that the artist conjured up this idea. Instead, it was a story.” Sun Yuan said the work has been shown at a number of countries since its inception in 2007 and the biggest challenge has been the technical maintenance. “It would have been a lot cheaper and easier if it is in China.

Now on show at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation as part of “Go Figure! Contemporary Chinese Portraiture”, “Old Person’s Home” was created in 2007 by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, the artists’ duo based in Beijing. The two young artists are known for using controversial material matters “such as human fat tissue, live animals, and baby cadavers to deal with issues of perception, death, and the human condition.” After this show in Australia, the Old Person’s Home will be on their journey to their final home, Hong Kong’s M+ Musem which will open in 2017.

Go Figure! opens at NPG and SCAF

Featuring 55 works from the prominent Uli Sigg Collection, “Go Figure! Contemporary Chinese Portraiture” opened on September 13th at Australian National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and on September 15th at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF). This exhibition has been curated by Dr Claire Roberts, the senior lecturer in art history at Adelaide University and one of the leading sinologists in this country and features some of the most high-profile artists working at international level today, including Ai Weiwei , Fang Lijun, Geng Jianyi, Liu Xiaodong, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Shen Shaomin, Wang Guangyi, Wang Jianwei, Yin Xiuzhen, Yu Hong, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Peili and Zhang Xiaogang in diversified media of painting, drawing, mixed media, sculpture, photography, video and installation art.

Shen Shaomin’s work, also on show at SCAF as part of Go Figure!

As a Swiss businessman and the former Swiss ambassador in Beijing, Uli Sigg started his collection in 1990s. The Uli Sigg Collection is deemed as the world’s most comprehensive collection of Chinese contemporary art from 1990s to present, and now boasts a comprehensive collection of more than 2200 artworks from 1979 by 350 Chinese contemporary artists. In June 2012, under a partial gift and partial purchase agreement, Sigg donated 1463 works valued at $US163 million to Hong Kong’s M+ Museum, which will open in 2017, part of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority development..

Ai Weiwei’s work of “Uli Sigg” also on show at SCAF, as part of Go Figure!

Go Figure! is now showing at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra from 13 September 2012 till 17 February 2013 and at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney from 15 September 15 till 1 December 2012.


National Portrait Gallery, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Saatchi Gallery

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