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Ni Youyu’s “Brooklyn Galaxy” Project and Installation

By Lisa Bruno, Carol Lee Shen Chief Conservator, Brooklyn Museum

The contemporary Chinese artist Ni Youyu creates thoughtful, multi-dimensional pieces that incorporate drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and installation.  His work is both contemporary and historic, reaching deep into the past of Chinese art making practices as well as his own personal history.  As an artist just beginning his career after graduating from the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts in 2007, Ni Youyu could not afford to buy materials and supplies to create installations.  Money and the world financial crisis of 2008 pushed the artist to begin a body of work using coins as raw materials.  He literally started with the coins from his pocket.  What began with Chinese coins grew to a project encompassing coins in circulation from countries all over the world.  For more on the coins series, and a video showing the artist’s process, visit https://www.niyouyu.com/galaxy-project

 

The museum’s new acquisition of Ni Youyu’s work Brooklyn Galaxy, made specifically for the newly re-opened Brooklyn Museum Chinese Galleries, is wonderful and captivating, yet it also proved a challenge to install.  The work consists of 66 coins, hammered flat, obliterating or nearly obliterating the evidence of their monetary value, and country of origin.  The coins are ½” – 1 ¼” in diameter from various metal alloys and colors.  Each of the coins became a surface onto which he painted images with extremely detailed delicacy and adeptness.  These coins when installed on a wall become a galaxy unto themselves, revealing a whole universe of ideas, thought, emotions, and feeling.

 

For Brooklyn Galaxy, Ni Youyu chose nineteen masterworks from Brooklyn Museum’s collection and painted their images in supreme detail.  These pieces are installed in the Chinese Galleries alongside his work.  He began the artwork in 2014 with the first coin being an image of the museum’s Cizhou Ware Pillow in the Form of a Tiger 

 

Cizhou Ware Pillow in the Form of a Tiger, 1182. Cizhou ware, earthenware, painted slip decoration with transparent glaze, 4 3/8 x 6 3/4 x 14 1/2 in. (11.1 x 17.1 x 36.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Asian Art Council, 1993.56. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1993.56_overall_PS9.jpg)

 

 

Ni Youyu (Chinese, born 1984). Brooklyn Galaxy, 2014. Metal, pigment Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Dr. Bertram H. Schaffner, by exchange and Designated Purchase Fund, 2019.9.  © artist or artist’s estate (Photo: , pc01-2019.9_front_PS9.jpg)

 

 

Traveling Coffer, ca. 1250-1290. Lacquer over leather, bamboo, wood, with metal mounts, 17 1/4 x 29 x 16 1/4 in. (43.8 x 73.7 x 41.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Asian Art Council, 1996.68. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1996.68_SL1.jpg)

 

Ni Youyu (Chinese, born 1984). Brooklyn Galaxy, 2014. Metal, pigment Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Dr. Bertram H. Schaffner, by exchange and Designated Purchase Fund, 2019.9. © artist or artist’s estate (Photo: , pc09-2019.9_front_PS9.jpg)

 

In addition to Brooklyn’s collection, Ni Youyu also painted reflections of his own work.  https://www.niyouyu.com/mixed-media-painting and https://www.niyouyu.com/golden-wash

 

Ni Youyu (Chinese, born 1984). Brooklyn Galaxy, 2014. Metal, pigment Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Dr. Bertram H. Schaffner, by exchange and Designated Purchase Fund, 2019.9. © artist or artist’s estate (Photo: , pc37-2019.9_front_PS9.jpg)

 

Ni Youyu (Chinese, born 1984). Brooklyn Galaxy, 2014. Metal, pigment Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Dr. Bertram H. Schaffner, by exchange and Designated Purchase Fund, 2019.9. © artist or artist’s estate (Photo: , pc65-2019.9_front_PS9.jpg)

 

Ni Youyu (Chinese, born 1984). Brooklyn Galaxy, 2014. Metal, pigment Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Dr. Bertram H. Schaffner, by exchange and Designated Purchase Fund, 2019.9. © artist or artist’s estate (Photo: , pc52-2019.9_front_PS9.jpg)

 

 

Previous installations of this body of the artist’s work were in temporary exhibitions.  Double sided tape was used to directly adhere the coins to the gallery wall.   While this may be possible in a temporary exhibition space, this would be a challenge for the museum to carry out successfully without putting the artwork at risk.  A barrier in the form of glazing was felt to be imperative to protect the artwork from loss and damage due to touching.  How to install the work with a barrier that would not in itself limit future installations, become an intrusive part of the presentation, or inadvertently cause damage to the artwork was the hurdle.

 

A five-sided vitrine over a backboard was an initial idea, but it was quickly realized that this would likely not allow the viewer to get close enough to see the details and be too much of a container, confining and limiting the expansive form of a galaxy.  Also, there was concern that the backboard material could over time off-gas pollutants that would eventually cause the coins to corrode if sealed within a box.

 

A single flat sheet of acrylic barrier with low profile channels to secure it to the wall was arrived upon as a perfect solution.  Given that visibility is critical to the appreciation of this artwork, non-reflective Optium glazing by Tru Vue, Incorporated was the obvious choice.  The space between coin and glazing was approximately ¼” allowing a viewer to get close without distractions of glare and reflection.

 

Ni Youyu (Chinese, born 1984). Brooklyn Galaxy, 2014. Metal, pigment Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Dr. Bertram H. Schaffner, by exchange and Designated Purchase Fund, 2019.9. © Ni Youyu.  Installation view, Arts of Asia, Brooklyn Museum, On view since October 25, 2019. (Photo: Jonathan Dorado, Brooklyn Museum)

 

The artist created a specific diagram indicating where each coin was to be placed.  Working from a to scale template, each coin was installed on the wall with microcrystalline sticky wax before being glazed with the Tru Vue Optium acrylic sheet.

 

Ni Youyu (Chinese, born 1984). Brooklyn Galaxy, 2014. Metal, pigment Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Dr. Bertram H. Schaffner, by exchange and Designated Purchase Fund, 2019.9. © Ni Youyu.  Installation view, Arts of Asia, Brooklyn Museum, On view since October 25, 2019. (Photo: Jonathan Dorado, Brooklyn Museum)

 

See the work in Brooklyn’s Chinese Gallery.

 

Ni Youyu (Chinese, born 1984). Brooklyn Galaxy, 2014. Metal, pigment Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Dr. Bertram H. Schaffner, by exchange and Designated Purchase Fund, 2019.9. © Ni Youyu.  Installation view, Arts of Asia, Brooklyn Museum, On view since October 25, 2019. (Photo: Jonathan Dorado, Brooklyn Museum)

This article is intended for educational purposes only and does not replace independent professional judgment. Statements of fact and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) individually and, unless expressly stated to the contrary, are not the opinion or position of Tru Vue or its employees. Tru Vue does not endorse or approve, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, accuracy or completeness of the information presented.

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