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Other DallasArtsRevue Storeis by James Michael Starr
The Adventures of Yen-Hua Lee
Or "An Artist's Cautionary Tale About Getting Your Hopes Up And Expecting Things To Go Smoothly Just Because You Did Almost Everything Perfect"
Yen-Hua Lee Chicago Exposition 2008
ink on book page 11.5 x 8.6 inches
My wife, Alison, and I have all but adopted Yen-Hua Lee, a young Taiwanese mixed-media artist she met in ceramics classes at Brookhaven College, and one with exceptional talent. Alison calls her "little sister," but my greater age difference requires I act like the dad.
True to her culture's tendency toward over-achievement, Yen-Hua appears to be on the fast track to recognition as a contemporary artist in America. Just a few years ago, shortly after getting her MA at the University of Dallas, she had her gallery debut in the Project Room at Conduit. Now she has work in Houston's Hooks-Epstein Galleries and her MFA from Northern Illinois University, DeKalb.
In order to stay in the U.S. and further her career, she's gone off to New York to continue all that emerging business and has since been well-received in several shows, most recently one that opened March 13th at New York Studio Gallery on Manhattan's Lower East Side.
And that's where a string of disappointments began for Yen-Hua.
For reasons beyond anyone's control, a 3-part exhibition at Dallas Contemporary planned for a February 27 opening had to be rescheduled. And as Miss February in the Contemporary's Mix! series of ethnically diverse artists, Yen-Hua would now have a Dallas show opening on the same March night as her show in Manhattan.
Even Yen-Hua Lee can't be in two places at once.
The Contemporary had to delay this big opening from the previous month because the larger, traveling show scheduled for the main gallery was held up in transit. Unfortunately, Yen-Hua had already bought a plane ticket to arrive in Dallas just in time to install her work, attend the opening reception and return home.
Now with the Dallas show delayed two weeks and opening the same night as the show in New York, the calendar would require her to return early to install there. She'd have both shows up in time and be present at her opening reception in New York, but miss the opening here, also important to her career.
Yen-Hua Lee Herald Visitors 2008
ink on book page 11.5 x 8.625 inches
Truly, a pair of simultaneous, big-city openings is a dilemma we artists would all love to face. But it's disappointing just the same. And the disappointments mounted from there.
Still in New York, Yen-Hua continued communicating about preparations with Dallas Contemporary via email, for instance getting dimensions for the main corridor where Mix! artists show. She phoned here and asked me to pick from a sketchbook she'd left at our home eight drawings that artist Larry Enge could frame in time to install (Larry's a former preparator at the Amon Carter, and the man I call whenever I have a question that in any way whatsoever relates to wood).
She selected and shipped to the Contemporary enough additional work that, when combined with the 8 framed drawings, could adequately fill the space.
Fill the space, unfortunately for her, is not what you do at the Contemporary, so when she arrived in Dallas to install, she learned she'd have to leave out much of what she'd shipped. Just the same, she soldiered on and spent a day installing the remaining work on facing walls of that spacious main corridor, finishing up with a series of pencil drawings in the spaces between a grouping of frames. After all, Yen-Hua didn't arrive where she is today by getting all down and mopey whenever things go differently than she expected.
And once more, things were about to go differently than she expected.
The following day, her last in Dallas before returning to New York to install her show there, she got a call from the Contemporary. They needed to speak to her in person.
At this point I need to say that we joke about my being Yen-Hua's official translator. Not that she doesn't speak English. But it's Yen-Hua English, a special kind of English that requires a few minutes for your ears to adjust. I've helped her in the past by assisting in communications with galleries and other folks, so she asked me to come along this time and make sure everybody's English matched.
So now enroute to the Contemporary, Yen-Hua and I speculated about what problem might have come up to require this face-to-face meeting. I predicted that they wanted to take the shrink-wrap plastic off her rice-paper drawings, which I'd wanted to do myself. She predicted that they didn't like her pencil drawings on the wall. We were both wrong, and it was not at all what we expected.
Yen-Hua Lee Princess Eulalia 2008
ink on book page 11.5-x-8.625 inches
If you'll look closely at many of Yen-Hua's drawings, you'll see that the human figures populating them include small and stylized, anatomical features, one particular feature for the females and another for the males.
You must be at least 21 years of age to continue reading. Vaginas and penises, respectively, are what we're talking about here. But they are so geometric, iconic and ambiguous as to be missed in a cursory examination, just as are the little fishes she uses for eyes. Bet you didn't notice those, either.
So it's understandable that they might have missed the vaginas and penises, just like I did the first time I saw Yen-Hua's little people. But now, to the Contemporary, they seemed giant and everywhere, and sexual content, if that's what you would call this, poses to them a serious risk of public backlash. For that reason they felt it necessary to move her work into an adjacent hallway. The one with the water fountain, not the one with the restrooms.
Now it's all water under the bridge, and despite the disappointments, Yen-Hua remains philosophical. She spoke several times about how there will always be disappointments, and that they help you to mature and to prepare for new challenges.
And, I add, for the next series of even more painful, more deeply embittering disappointments. But again, I joke, just as she did when she said at future shows she'll check ID. Or she'll hand out telescopes so that her work may be viewed from a safe distance. Of course, she said all this in Yen-Hua English, and it may have sounded funnier that way.
Plans for Yen-Hua's show have changed again at Dallas Contemporary, but this time it's good news, as they're extending all three of the current exhibitions through August 22. I've already started on the jokes I'll tell Yen-Hua when she comes to town; such as, she got the extension because folks here in town needed more time to review her drawings so they could get good and upset. And she'll have her own quips. Then she'll just smile and do more drawings with more small and stylized, anatomical features.
Because the rescheduled opening in Dallas conflicted with her simultaneous opening in New York, the Contemporary is hosting a small, midway reception for Yen-Hua Lee on May 30. As a sign of her gratitude, she has created twenty-five, 4x6-inch drawings she'll make available in exchange for a $50 donation to the Contemporary's fund-raising efforts. If you would like to receive an invitation to that event and meet Yen-Hua, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
James Michael Starr's own work may be seen on
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