Yang Yong - Anonymous Still (detail) - 2004

Yang Yong

Installation, Photography, Painting

March 2, 2015

Yang Yong is a Chinese photographer, painter and installation artist. His artworks are unpretentiously expressions of what is quintessentially new in China - the random, crowded, aimless triviality of sudden and unexpected prosperity.

Born in 1975, Yang Yong studied oil painting at the Art Institute of his native Sichuan and started experimenting with video and photography soon after graduating. His focus on photographing urban youth aims to document the ever-changing zeitgeist of his generation, China’s youth born in the 1970’s and 80’s. Part documentarian, part director, Yang Yong creates works that capture both intimacy and staged isolation.
The initial impression Yang Yong’s photographs make is one of self-consciousness. All the photographs are of women ostensibly posing in a variety of urban settings, and the images generically reflect different types of representation: snapshots, fashion photographs and stills from over-styled art films. Most were taken in artificial light, both exterior and interior, and some are nearly monochrome, glowing with a vivid orange or green light. These images focus on the beauty that becomes even more poignant when amplified by sorrow. Yang intones a universal melody of loneliness and need of protection.

Yang Yong’s models are young women from the province, friends of the photographer who often finance their existence through prostitution, with whom he spins a kind of high-gloss romance of his impressions of loneliness. As a pioneer of the South China counterculture, Yang Yong’s Cruel Diary of Youth series captured a pivotal moment in China’s history filled with a bewildering emptiness of the new life for all its promise. The melancholy registered in these images is all the more haunting for describing Shenzhen youth, often young country girls trying their luck in the big city and playing out their lives within the context of vast social change. His staged tableaux, shot mostly at night and on the streets, brood with melancholy and foreboding.

Yang Yong initially studied oil painting before making an international name for himself in photography in exhibitions at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof and at the Venice Biennial. Since then, his work was featured in many other group and solo exhibitions across China, Europe and the United States.

The artist currently lives and works in Beijing.