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Broken Blossoms

Yun Bai's Fresh Flora at Wertz Contemporary gallery

It was amusing to watch gallery-goers contemplate Yun Bai's exhibition Fresh Flora on a recent Saturday afternoon. Men and women would mosey into Castleberry Hill's Wertz Contemporary gallery, chatting merrily. Then they would promptly about-face when they realized what was going on in Bai's abstract botanicals.

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From across the room, the content of the mixed-media paintings seems innocuous enough.

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Against pale pastel backgrounds of robin's egg blue and conch-shell pink, graphic tendrils suggesting trees and ivy support clusters of flesh-colored blossoms. The strange trees meld a stark Asian feel with a hip, West Coast graphic attitude, testifying to former Atlanta-based artist Bai's Chinese heritage and current Los Angeles residency.

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But move in closer and what appear to be blossoms or fruit-laden branches are in fact details cut from glossy porn magazines and assembled into a sucky-fucky collage of breasts, vaginas, penises, tongues and lips.

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It would appear from the skittish reaction of those art-goers that maybe Americans aren't as sex-obsessed as the booming Internet porn business and these magazines would have us believe. Most seemed downright spooked by Bai's work, which offers powerful commentary on the detachment and alienation contained in porn's bacchanalian extremes.

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To really see Bai's work, you need to practically bury your nose in it. A closer inspection reveals that Bai has added sentences to her canvases, which curl like grape tendrils around the naked body parts.

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In those lines, Bai has encapsulated her own desires, which range from Playboy centerfold ambitions like "What I want: Live by a clean beach," to the more esoteric wish list of a young artist: "Get into New American Paintings," "Get into Whitney Biennial." The voraciousness of those mouths and orifices is nothing compared to the bottomless want of a struggling artist.

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In her previous work, Bai used porn at the service of feminist commentary. But Bai's latest exhibition shows her ability to inject new content and complexity.



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