Christina Niederberger: The Future of Nostalgia & Yushi Li: Women act, men appear

03/12/2020 - 19/12/2020

Union Gallery is pleased to present Christina Niederberger’s The Future of Nostalgia, curated by William Gustafsson.

The Future of Nostalgia bares its name from Svetlana Boym’s 2001 book which examines the notion of nostalgia by distinguishing between “reflective” and “restorative” nostalgia. Whilst “reflective” nostalgia emphasizes the act of longing itself, accepting the irrevocability of the past and embraces the ambivalences and contradictions of modernity, “restorative” nostalgia attempts to rebuild the lost past as an absolute truth and national collective identity which erases all ambiguity.

This exhibition brings together a body of work by Niederberger dating from 2016 to the present, presenting paintings for which she has reappropriated modern masters via an illusionistic mark marking process, in the case of the works included, Willem de Kooning and Anni Albers. Niederberger's examination of these artists is not driven by a nostalgic desire to reconstruct the past but by a strategy to employ their tropes and styles to reflect on the contributions painting can offer today.

Perceptions of art and it’s past are forever changing. They are never fixed, with the ebbs and flows of cultural conditions, the not withstanding of historical tradition and gender politics. Niederberger examines how a renewed consideration of these contextual elements offers possibilities for a unique contemporary painting practice. Niederberger is interested in the tension generated by the historical rhetoric surrounding the masculine connotations of oil painting creating the illusion of a feminine craft of embroidery in oil, finding it empowering to challenge these ideologies.

It was an intuitive choice for Niederberger to begin this distinctively new body of work in 2016 with de Kooning, specifically his women paintings. A macho male painter with a misogynous, monstrous, untamed nature. Niederberger’s works are a perversion of de Kooning’s painting process, stifling his brush strokes by visually translating them with a tight painstakingly and a meticulously controlled result. She suffocates his bold brush strokes against the grain of his ideology and was not afraid to bastardize his work.

With this exhibition we see Niederberger’s progression of this new direction of her painting practice. Feeling limited by the figurative works, she moved into a more abstract direction allowing her more freedom to scrutinize this evolving exploration of a new style. Still referencing de Kooning with the abstract works, Niederberger felt the translation and interpretations were becoming progressively more her own. The range of tones and colours became systemically more intense and the weave distinctively further intricate.

Finally we look to Anni Albers, a champion of modernism, a woman who elevated the medium of textile to it now being regarding as high art. The prospect of visually translating Albers’ work, as she previously had done with de Kooning’s, was too much for Niederberger, with her holding Albers’ work in too high esteem as one female artist to another. Inspired by Albers but no longer reappropriating a particular original the transformation or influence has taken here its most extreme advancement with Niederberger’s artistic voice speaking the loudest.

Whilst carrying the legacy of modern masters Niederberger has created a renewed contemporary narrative for the nostalgia she holds for past greats of art history.

Niederberger lives and works in London, UK


Union Gallery is pleased to present Yushi Li’s Women act, men appear, curated by William Gustafsson.

Beginning with the title of the exhibition Women act, men appear, Li challenges the typical relations of men and power. Inverting John Berger’s famous quote in his book Ways of Seeing (1972) “Men act and women appear”. Berger states that Men act through gazing whilst women activate themselves from their own attention. Whereby, a woman turns herself into an object to be looked upon by men, supporting that the objectification act is male though the performance of looking. Li intervenes within the existing representations of erotic desire to question the dichotomy of active men and passive women in the question of the role of the gaze.

Li is increasingly becoming present rather than passive in her work by inserting herself firmly into them. In her photographs, the female figure, is no longer the incarnation of someone else’s dream or desire, but the protagonist of her own stories. Her latest, The Feast works, which are a collaboration with another female photographer Steph Wilson, reflect on the staging of eroticism in Western art history to create this ‘feast of men’ for women. Through constructing these fantastical dream-like settings, Li tries to present an outward, desiring and almost penetrative gaze to confront both the male gaze and the Western gaze onto herself - an exotic and fetishized Asian woman, thrusting the male into the role of the once adorned female.

In the project The Artist Portrait series, depicts different collectors, gallerists and curators alongside herself. Through the framing of these men who affect her artistic career in different ways, Li plays with this power relationship inherent not only in the gaze, but also the art world itself. These men’s nakedness is not only an erotic representation, but also an indicator of her attempt to have the power over them.

In The Veil works, Li doesn’t present herself, she projects her fantasies through the shown male figure with an investigation of male representations as an erotic subject. Her dreams and love for her desired male body reveal the hidden tensions with the phallus unattainable, the unlocalized fuels the desire.

Li lives and works in London, UK