Emily Yong Beck
Lions & Lambs
August 5 - 28
Gaa Gallery Provincetown
Gaa Gallery is pleased to present Lions & Lambs, a solo exhibition of ceramic sculptures by Chicago-based artist, Emily Yong Beck. Juxtaposing propaganda cartoons and reinterpretations of European and Asian ceramics, Lions & Lambs is a rigorous and aesthetically expansive examination of cuteness culture. This will be Yong Beck's first solo exhibition with the gallery.
They're seated at a table. Eleven objects of slumped together earth, vitrified, vibrant, and adorned. A TV hums in the background.
Thumper is carrying a missile. There are faded, glossy flowers stuck to his hind legs. Outside he sees his likeness on a fighter jet with names of locations and kills etched below. Mickey Mouse has his hands on his hips. He's thinking - "Aren't these new blockbusters beautiful." Donald Duck is talking with pursed lips donning a sailor cap. Something about paying taxes, patriotism, and aiding in the war effort.
Disney is on the edge of financial collapse and cutting deals with the US Government.
Tinged with high gloss and gold leaf, one of a pair of vaguely familiar pigs sits at a dinner table, arms folded, waiting. Obscure and from a long time ago, they are still lingering somewhere. Betty Boop is winking.
The Sanrio Family is here too. The virtuous My Melody and her evil counterpart Kuromi are backlit by the rays of the Imperial Japanese Rising Sun Flag. The tail of a Korean folk tiger wraps around them. Its eye looks out through a hole in the vase.
Popeye is eating spinach. Dumbo is looking up.
Lions & Lambs illustrates duality— Lions, often representing evil, harshness, and strength, and lambs— innocence, purity, and vulnerability. With the title and the works in the exhibition Yong Beck, born in Korea and raised in the United States, develops a personal connection to the mass-produced media, drawing comparisons to the duality of her own experiences.
Examining her relationships with nostalgia, Yong Beck contrasts how she consumes media now compared to her understanding of cartoons as a child. Central to her work is questioning the role of media and how it is perceived, recollected, and later re-experienced. What is remembered? What happens when we become desensitized to an image? What is the legacy of media and material culture if lived experiences and histories are erased by the more pervasive and palatable qualities of a mass-produced image?
Underscoring the extreme visual qualities of cuteness and what might be underlining its saccharine veneer, Yong Beck examines how media, craft, and cuteness can be used to obscure violence. Through a selective appropriation and pairing of cultural references, her work subverts familiarity and creates a dialog about forgotten histories erased by political propaganda. A fresh take on contemporary ceramics and the Sloppy Craft Movement, Yong Beck's work operates in a decisive swiftness - merging the easily digestible and benevolent aesthetics of cartoons and the more malignant subtext underwriting the narratives of the seemingly naive characters.
In these maximal and intricate sculptures, Yong Beck references the ornate and highly stylized ceramics of the Sevres Factory in France. In contrast to porcelain used by much of 18th-century ceramics, Yong Beck utilizes stoneware glazed in saturated colors applied onto scratched images and attaches elements extending beyond the vessels. Rococo ceramics, characterized by using white porcelain figures set in whimsical and dreamy narratives, were used to further an agenda of white supremacy and nationalism while supporting the erasure of the violence of colonialism
In a similar strategy of pairing historical materials with contemporary motifs, Yong Beck's recent work pairs the Korean folk tiger with popular Anime characters. Set to the background of the Rising Sun Flag, a symbol of Imperial Japan, recognizable cartoon characters battle a tiger, a symbol of strength, resilience, and power in Korean culture. In these works Yong Beck examines Kawaii Culture as a mode of "cute-washing" to erase the history of Japanese occupation and the continued militarization of Korea.
Through creating works that at first glance, are familiar, playful, vibrant, and maximal, Yong Beck asks the viewer to take a second look.
Emily Yong Beck (b. 1999, Daegu, South Korea) is an interdisciplinary ceramic artist who received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute in 2021. Yong Beck's work has been featured in the solo exhibition, Spoonful of Sugar at New Image Art, Los Angeles, CA, and a two-person presentation with Gaa Gallery at NADA New York, NY. In early 2023, she will have a solo exhibition at Gaa Projects, Cologne, Germany. Yong Beck has been awarded residences at Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, Newcastle, ME, and Township10, Marshall, NC. Yong Beck lives and works in Chicago, IL, where she co-runs the exhibition space, The Latent Space.