Press Release: Energy Palimpsest & The Third Megaton

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

April 03, 2006

For Immediate Release: March 30, 2006

Energy Palimpsest New Work by Daniel Kaniess

The 3rd Megaton New Paintings by Yang Yang

Minneapolis Institute of Arts April 7–July 23, 2006

Minneapolis, MN, March 20, 2006—The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) and the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) present a double exhibition with new work by Minnesota artists Daniel Kaniess and Yang Yang. Opening April 7, “Energy Palimpsest” and “The 3rd Megaton” feature gestural recycled mixed-media pieces by Kaniess and figurative paintings and drawings by Yang Yang, including a twenty-eight-foot mural. Though Kaniess and Yang grew up in different cultures and have evolved distinctly different bodies of work, both study the perceptual constraints of culture and make art that provokes a rethinking of what we perceive and what we understand about our place in the world.

Kaniess and Yang began their creative inquiries at opposite ends of the earth, Kaniess in rural Wisconsin and Yang in Jiangxi province, China. Kaniess left the countryside to study art at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where he earned a B.F.A., and moved to Minneapolis in 1979. Since then, he has been an active player in the Twin Cities music and art scene. Yang was already trained as a teacher when he left China in 1984 to study art at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He earned a master’s degree, did additional graduate work, and served as an instructor of Chinese culture at Augustana until 1991, when he moved to the Twin Cities and became a full-time artist.

  • As a painter and a creator of mixed-media works, Kaniess strives to make us aware that the new ways we take in information today have changed the way we see. He wonders whether our regular travel into endless Internet territories has affected our perceptual and psychological awareness. He notices that shallow, “spaced-out” recognition has replaced discernment, because it is better suited to the high-speed “glimpse” that screen-media technology gives us.

While this suspended perception might be suited for playing hours of video games and killing with the click of the mouse, it is culturally problematic. Kaniess responds to its aesthetic through layered paintings and frenetic drawings on LP jackets and vast sections of used billboard vinyl that obscure as much as they reveal. As twenty-first-century palimpsests, Kaniess’s new works come to being through the desire of an artist to create and advance a visual language linking the screen-media aesthetic with the actual world.

Kaniess’s poetic animation of the picture plane alludes to many sources, including graffiti, digital technology, contemporary graphic design, and computer animation. Using the tools of our time—magic markers, paint markers, and spray paint—he brings allover abstraction squarely into the twenty-first century through non-objective marks and forms that he draws, paints, and scribbles. Kaniess connects his love for the gestural abstraction made famous by earlier greats, such as Jackson Pollock, Hans Hoffman, and Cy Twombly, to a more contemporary and defiant street aesthetic that redraws commercial and perceptual boundaries. His concern is not so much taking us to the outer limits of the cosmos as bringing us back down to Earth.

In Vent (2004), Kaniess uses gesso to obscure most of an album cover, leaving only two small, irregular shapes of an unidentifiable photographic image showing through. Then he covers virtually all of the whitewash with a tangle of dark scribbled lines. In Mall (2006) and Milky Way (2006), he repeats the square—quintessential symbol of formalism—to mock (or perhaps play with) the visual format of computer windows. Nearly a hundred years ago, Kasimir Malevich declared the square’s supreme power as a shape not found in nature but invented by humans. Few forms reflect our humanity so simply, so directly. But these windows don’t give up anything more than a painting that says, “Here it is: reality in the first degree.”

  • Yang’s unique approach to making art integrates calligraphic and pictorial traditions from the East and the West. Among his earliest influences are Chinese mythology and philosophy and classical Chinese ink painting. He began painting and drawing at a young age, inspired by the Nanchang masters Fu Baoshi and Zhu Da. In 1984, he left his homeland to study art in the United States, finding inspiration in the work of various western masters including Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Richard Diebenkorn.

Yang’s first works in America reflected traditional Chinese principles, stressing natural beauty and mysticism. His paintings of the 1980s had similarities with the Yun Nan school, a style of decorative figurative abstraction known for jewel-toned “stained-glass” compositions, popular in China and the United States. But as Yang integrated his own interests with divergent pictorial traditions, he developed a compelling personal style. Lui Qi Wei, curator of the Museum of Fine Art in Shaanxi, describes Yang’s work as combining the quality of the “Oriental mystics with tragic magnificence.”

Many of Yang’s most recent paintings present a subdued, even monochromatic palette that mitigates mysterious, psychologically charged space. It is not an illusionary space, but a stage for our own projections. Very Taoist in his sensibility, Yang creates compositions occupied by mysterious animals and humans engaged in ambiguous relationships. His people defy racial or ethnic assignment; they are simply human. The animals are generic birds, horses, pigs, or goats. Some of Yang’s figures ride or tumble into each other—humans ride horses, horses ride humans. Untitled #3 (2004) engenders a palpable sense of dread—a stark room, a figure lying limp on a table in the center, two strange seated figures staring from the room’s perimeter.

In his epic painting The 3rd Megaton (2006), Yang depicts “the world as it is today.” The twenty-eight-foot-long mural teems with people, has a lava-like energy, and contains various images with apocalyptic undertones. Is this a prophetic work? “Humans are very creative,” says Yang. “The earth does not need to change—it is so beautifully designed. But I do think about how much humans destroy to live.”

“Energy Palimpsest” and “The 3rd Megaton” are on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts through July 23, 2006. Free public programs include an artist-led tour with Yang on Thursday, April 13, at 7 p.m , an artist-led tour with Kaniess on Thursday, April 20 at 7 p.m., and a Critic’s Trialogue with Christopher Atkins and Diane Mullen on Thursday, May 4, at 7 p.m.

“Energy Palimpsest” and “The 3rd Megaton” are presented by the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program, an artist-run curatorial department of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, made possible by generous support from the Jerome Foundation.


About the Minneapolis Institute of Arts The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, home to one of the finest encyclopedic art collections in the country, houses approximately 100,000 works of art representing more than 5,000 years of world history. Highlights of the permanent collection include European masterworks by Rembrandt van Rijn, Nicolas Poussin, and Vincent Van Gogh, as well as internationally significant collections of Asian art, decorative arts, Modernism, photographs, and African and Native American art.

General admission is always free. Some special exhibitions have a nominal admission fee. Museum Hours: Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Closed Monday. For additional information, call (612) 870–3131 or visit www.artsmia.org.