American adventures come to town on canvas

Tan Weiyun
American artist Hernan Bas' first exhibition on the Chinese mainland, "Choose Your Own Adventure," is running at Yuz Museum Shanghai.
Tan Weiyun

American artist Hernan Bas' first exhibition on the Chinese mainland, "Choose Your Own Adventure," is running at Yuz Museum Shanghai. Featuring more than 20 quintessential paintings and rarely seen video installations from the 2000s, the exhibition can be seen as the epitome of Bas' career.

Presented chronologically and thematically, all the artworks lend themselves to the "adventure" theme, inviting visitors to roam wildly among the artist's creative chapters over different periods.

Renowned for his complex and intricate narrative paintings, Bas tends to create tense, dangerous, mysterious and ambiguous scenes, with specific imageries often filled with layers of references.

Each work on display embodies the exhibition's title in every sense of the word: you are invited onto a sailboat on a stormy sea; into a camper van on the hunt for the Loch Ness Monster; onto the front yard of a Miami home strewn with plastic pink flamingos; and into the empty pool of a roadside motel after the apocalypse.

"However, there is a distinctly American through line that links each work, specifically related to the oddball, wonderful, strange Floridian sensibility he encountered as a child," said independent curator Anna Stothart.

In the painting "Pink Plastic Lures," a young man leans against a rusted pink Cadillac in a ramshackle front yard. For Bas, this might be the "real Florida," which counters the idealized tropes of sandy beaches and blue sea water.

The yard is littered with scrap pieces of wood and weeds, and the house hides behind a cluster of palm trees. The rundown scene represents the failure or loss of the American Dream. The young man with a straw hat in a white T-shirt and jeans stares at the real flamingo that appears among the artificial, kitschy and plastic replicas in a box.

The lanky male characters between the ages of adolescence and adulthood are recurring images in Bas' paintings. They often contemplate in solitude or stare into the distance, wandering through splendid and flowery fantasies. The images of young men with melancholic looks can be interpreted as Bas' autobiographical self-exploration, but he does not view these as self-portraits.

In "Four Bathers by a River," the artist depicts young men bathing together in a forest stream. They appear apprehensive and cautious in their actions, suggesting a need for secrecy. One young man gazes directly at viewers, including us in their shared secret. The young male figures, often unsettled, awkward and timid, reveal Bas' portrayal of changes in life, especially the transitional moment between boyhood and manhood.

American adventures come to town on canvas
Ti Gong

Hernan Bas' "Pink Plastic Lures," 2016, acrylic on linen

Exhibition info

Dates: Through January 9 (closed on Mondays), 10am-6pm

Tickets: 60 yuan

Venue: Yuz Museum Shanghai

Address: 35 Fenggu Road

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