The Romantic Fragment
It is hard to refuse the sickly sweet seduction of Xu Yang’s ‘Pandora’s Candy Box.’ Temptation overwhelms refrainment; I long to be in the possession of one or all of the artist’s miniature paintings of 6x6cm. Like trinkets, or mementos, these paintings exude fragmentary charm; they are objects that I am inclined to gather. Yet what is it that I so wish to attain? Suggestively belonging to a hidden entirety, the fragment can be ominous as it points to missing parts or information that is not disclosed. Like Pandora, one is at risk of succumbing to curiosity and consequently living under a curse. Damnation by desire of wanting to know more is one’s fate.
It could be argued, however, that richness lies in the singular, incomplete form. This form alone possesses the conventional Romanticism of a ruin or relic. In the case of Xu’s isolated miniatures, the form offers the viewer space to construct one’s own narrative around the painting’s subject. In stumbling over a solitary fragment, artwork or idea, expression and thought emerges more authentic in its primary form. Like language, artworks are interesting when parts seem missing, or are failing entirely. Paradoxically, the broken is often more expressive.
Within the context of this virtual exhibition at Four You gallery, these paintings take part in the cyclical transformation of form constructed by the artist. Here, ‘Pandora’s Candy Box’ has no doubt been opened and the parts dispersed in a lavish unveiling of Xu Yang’s honeyed world. This exhibition gives us the autonomy to understand the paintings as individual parts, as well as in their collective entirety. I believe that one is seduced by fragments in their reduction from a complete structure, to a mere singular piece of debris. Things in collapse have a melodramatically tragic appeal. Fragments are penetrable and can be manipulated; they absorb thought and take many different forms.
A considered whole usually comes into being as multiple parts. Multiple parts or paintings make up a complete exhibition in this case, one that is articulate and intentional. Yet, with more knowledge come further questions, and the downfall of pre- conceived ideas. Time passes, destruction amounts, and the whole reverts to fragments that need to be individually considered once again. At this point, we can approach the debris as objects in their own right and begin to reconstruct more fully formed responses.
I come to think of the raucous Parisian Rococo scenes by which Xu Yang is inspired. As reflected in the paintings in ‘Pandora’s Candy Box,’ Rococo interiors were highly unified and embodied the coming together of various decorative arts in excess. Criticized for its elaborate frivolity, the style began to decline in the mid 18th century and eventually collapsed in the shadow of Neoclassicism. Much like Pandora, the Rococo fell victim to its own indulgence.