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
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
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.
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.
See the work in Brooklyn’s Chinese Gallery.
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