The Great Hall Exhibitions Archive

There are two Great Hall Exhibitions per year showcasing prominent contemporary artists. Taking place in the fall and spring semesters, the expansive great hall of the Duke House, a historic landmark building, provides an impressive setting for displaying seminal contemporary art in the center of the Institute’s academic home and community.

Spring 2019:
Amy Yao: Authorized Personnel

March 25th, 2019 to September 16th, 2019
The Institute of Arts, New York University
The James B. Duke House, 1 East 78th Street
Open to the public daily, 1pm-4pm

Photo Joerg Lohse, courtesy of the artist and 47 Canal, New York

The Institute of Fine Arts is pleased to present Authorized Personnel, a large-scale installation by contemporary artist Amy Yao. Opening March 25, 2019, the installation proudly continues a commitment to present work by mid-career women artists at the Institute’s James B. Duke House.

Yao intervenes within the luxurious architecture of the Duke House by blocking off the Great Hall’s marble platform with chain-link fencing, sheathed with laser-cut faux silk fabrics. By staging a mock, inaccessible construction site within a landmarked historic building, Authorized Personnel addresses pressing issues of division, identity, and authenticity.

The installation references the destruction that ensues from the rampant redevelopment of neighborhoods historically occupied by marginalized communities. Yao conceived this work as a response to the gentrification of culturally rich centers such as Los Angeles’ Chinatown, contemplating the process through which investors exploit and homogenize urban space. By mimicking the transitional and divisive nature of the construction fence, Yao highlights the exclusion of the very communities who are seen to imbue these spaces with “character.” What is the “real” Chinatown, and who gets to live there?

At first glance, the faux-silk covering the fencing recalls the familiar plastic nets that frequently appear on construction sites. Yet, on closer inspection the fabric contains patterns used in traditional Chinese silk brocade. Once coveted in Europe as highly valued imports and popularized in chinoiserie designs, such fabrics have since been reproduced as kitschy souvenirs and perceived as common signifiers of exoticism. In this way, Yao’s reflection extends beyond the direct reference to gentrification to raise deeper questions of cultural authenticity. Who produces “real” Chinese fabric, and who gets to wear it?

The skin-like appearance of the fabric confers a bodily dimension to the work that is particularly pertinent to Yao’s experience as an Asian-American woman. As Anne Anlin Cheng posits in Ornamentalism, Asian femininity has been tied to artifice, the decorative, and the ornamental in the Western imaginary: “Dare we say it? Ornament becomes—is—flesh for Asian American female personhood.” Yao’s faux-silk sheathing becomes a stand-in for Asian bodies, represented by a synthetic pastiche of exotic ornament.

Yao thus evokes the human toll of racial categorization and displacement in the face of rampant urban redevelopment and cultural stereotyping. Indeed, Authorized Personnel painfully concretizes the exclusionary rhetoric currently plaguing politics in the United States. Its installation within the Duke House serves as a timely reminder of the cost of such divisions and erasures, which apply as much to New York City real estate as to the barriers and obstacles of academia.

Amy Yao’s artistic practice interrogates the performative nature of identity and notions of authenticity. Her sculptural works are playful, subversive and strategic in their manipulation of familiar forms through unexpected materials. Her work has been exhibited at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris; MoMA PS1, New York; the 8th White Columns Annual, New York; He Xiang Art Museum, Shenzhen; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Museum of Chinese in America, New York. She is represented by 47 Canal, New York; Various Small Fires, Los Angeles; and vi vii, Oslo. The artist lives and works in New York and Los Angeles.

Authorized Personnel was made possible through the generous support of Valeria Napoleone XX. Special thanks to the artist and 47 Canal, New York for lending the works on view. It was curated by Francesca Ferrari, Kolleen Ku, Emily Shoyer, and Chao Chi Chiu.