‘Disguise the Limit’: UK Art Museum

LEXINGTON, Ky. — University of Kentucky Art Museum is proud to announce the first examination of the various collaborations that poet and critic John Yau has created with various visual artists during the past five decades.

“Disguise the Limit: John Yau’s Collaborations,” running Jan. 9 to June 1, 2024, includes paintings, mixed media works on paper, print portfolios, artist books and ephemera. As Yau says, “I’m into every way a poem can be done.”

“This exhibition focuses on the intersection of John Yau’s poetry, criticism and his rich collaborative engagement with artists over five decades. His generosity and sense of experimentation are obvious in the numerous ways he has partnered with others; some repeatedly, others for one-time projects,” said UK Art Museum Director Stuart Horodner.

Yau embraces Emily Dickinson’s oft-quoted line, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” a phrase that has a double reading, given Yau’s biracial status as a Chinese American. A prolific writer, his poems consistently combine ethnicity and experimentation, using various forms to examine aspects of identity, visual art and film history, detective novels, and popular culture. His art reviews and critical essays are celebrated for providing fresh insights into canonical artists and for helping to situate diverse practitioners into historical contexts and traditions, including those whose race, gender, age and sexual orientation have prevented them from receiving appropriate recognition.

Yau has collaborated alongside artists in their studios and at printmaking facilities, as well as through more remote means, offering nimble turns of phrase, haiku, Zen kōans, ransom notes, road sign warnings and completed poems for use in variously produced and published endeavors. “Disguise the Limit” presents these works on gallery walls and in vitrines, offering rich image and text combinations resulting from serious play and the masterful use of materials and printing/binding techniques.

The result of friendships and shared sensibilities, these collaborations reveal Yau’s embrace of both representation and abstraction as foils for language generation.

He has been a curious and generous partner with an international and intergenerational group of artists, including Phil Allen, Bill Barrette, Jake Berthot, Norman Bluhm, Tom Burckhardt, Squeak Carnwath, Aaron Cohick, Tracy Featherstone, Enrique Figueredo, Pia Fries, Max Gimblett, Richard Hull, Bill Jensen, Justine Kurland, Judy Ledgerwood, Suzanne McClelland, Malcolm Morley, Ilse Sørensen Murdock, Martin Noël, Ed Paschke, Norbert Prangenberg, Archie Rand, Sydney Jean Reisen, Peter Saul, Hanns Schimansky, Pat Steir, Siv Støldal and Carol Szymanski, Alison Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Therrien, Richard Tuttle, Claude Viallat, Chuck Webster and Trevor Winkfield, among others.

“The exhibition will establish Yau as a significant contributor to the history of collaboration between poets and artists, including works made by Frank O’Hara with Larry Rivers and Norman Bluhm; Philip Guston with Bill Berkson, Clark Coolidge and William Corbett; and Robert Creely with John Chamberlain, Jim Dine, Susan Rothenberg; among others,” Horodner said. “I am thrilled to curate and present this exhibition in the context of a university where art, literature, music, theatre, dance and other disciplines co-exist, and at a time when respectful collaboration could not be more important.”

Yau has authored numerous books of poetry and prose, including “Corpse and Mirror” (1983); “Edificio Sayonara” (1992); “Hawaiian Cowboys” (1995); “Forbidden Entries” (1996); “Borrowed Love Poems” (2002); “Ing Grish” (2005); “Paradiso Diaspora” (2006); “Further Adventures in Monochrome” (2012); “Bijoux in the Dark” (2018); “Genghis Chan on Drums” (2021); and “Tell It Slant” (2023).

His critical writings and monographs include “In the Realm of Appearances: The Art of Andy Warhol” (1993); “The Passionate Spectator: Essays on Art and Poetry” (2006); “A Thing Among Things: The Art of Jasper Johns” (2008); “Catherine Murphy” (2016); “The Wild Children of William Blake” (2017); “Thomas Nozkowski” (2017); “Foreign Sounds or Sounds Foreign” (2020); “Liu Xiadong” (2021); “Joe Brainard: The Art of the Personal” (2022); and “Please Wait by the Coatroom: Reconsidering Race and Identity in American Art” (2023).

This exhibition is made possible by a Terra Foundation for American Art grant, with additional support from the Albisetti Exhibition Fund.

A full-color publication with essays by Stuart Horodner, Sharon Mesmer and Barry Schwabsky is forthcoming. The exhibition will travel to the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, Oregon, in the fall of 2024.

The UK Art Museum will welcome the general public to a reception celebrating this new exhibition and others at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10.

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