Opening March 25, 2019, the installation proudly continues a commitment to present work by mid-career women artists at the Institute’s James B. Duke House.

Artwork from Authorized Personnel
Photo Joerg Lohse, courtesy of the artist and 47 Canal, New York

The Institute of Fine Arts at NYU Great Hall Exhibition Series is pleased to present Authorized Personnel, a large-scale installation by contemporary artist Amy Yao. Opening March 25, 2019, the installation proudly continues a commitment to present work by mid-career women artists at the Institute’s James B. Duke House.

Yao intervenes within the luxurious architecture of the Duke House by blocking off the Great Hall’s marble platform with chain-link fencing, sheathed with laser-cut faux silk fabrics. By staging a mock, inaccessible construction site within a landmarked historic building, Authorized Personnel addresses pressing issues of division, identity, and authenticity.

The installation references the destruction that ensues from the rampant redevelopment of neighborhoods historically occupied by marginalized communities. Yao conceived this work as a response to the gentrification of culturally rich centers such as Los Angeles’ Chinatown, contemplating the process through which investors exploit and homogenize urban space. By mimicking the transitional and divisive nature of the construction fence, Yao highlights the exclusion of the very communities who are seen to imbue these spaces with “character.” What is the “real” Chinatown, and who gets to live there?

At first glance, the faux-silk covering the fencing recalls the familiar plastic nets that     frequently appear on construction sites. Yet, on closer inspection the fabric contains patterns used in traditional Chinese silk brocade. Once coveted in Europe as highly valued imports and popularized in chinoiserie designs, such fabrics have since been reproduced as kitschy souvenirs and perceived as common signifiers of exoticism. In this way, Yao’s reflection extends beyond the direct reference to gentrification to raise deeper questions of cultural authenticity. Who produces “real” Chinese fabric, and who gets to wear it?

The skin-like appearance of the fabric confers a bodily dimension to the work that is particularly pertinent to Yao’s experience as an Asian-American woman. As Anne Anlin Cheng posits in Ornamentalism, Asian femininity has been tied to artifice, the decorative, and the ornamental in the Western imaginary: “Dare we say it? Ornament becomes—is—flesh for Asian American female personhood.” Yao’s faux-silk sheathing becomes a stand-in for Asian bodies, represented by a synthetic pastiche of exotic ornament.

Yao thus evokes the human toll of racial categorization and displacement in the face of rampant urban redevelopment and cultural stereotyping. Indeed, Authorized Personnel painfully concretizes the exclusionary rhetoric currently plaguing politics in the United States. Its installation within the Duke House serves as a timely reminder of the cost of such divisions and erasures, which apply as much to New York City real estate as to the barriers and obstacles of academia.

Amy Yao’s artistic practice interrogates the performative nature of identity and notions of authenticity. Her sculptural works are playful, subversive and strategic in their manipulation of familiar forms through unexpected materials. Her work has been exhibited at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris; MoMA PS1, New York; the 8th White Columns Annual, New York; He Xiang Art Museum, Shenzhen; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Museum of Chinese in America, New York. She is represented by 47 Canal, New York; Various Small Fires, Los Angeles; and vi vii, Oslo. The artist lives and works in New York and Los Angeles.

Authorized Personnel
was made possible through the generous support of Valeria Napoleone XX. Special thanks to 47 Canal for lending the works on view. It was curated by Francesca Ferrari, Kolleen Ku, Emily Shoyer, and Chao Chi Chiu.


Great Hall Exhibition Series, Spring 2019
The Institute of Arts, New York University
The James B. Duke House, 1 East 78th Street
March 25 – September 15, 2019, open daily 1pm to 4pm
Public programming on April 26 to be announced shortly.

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About the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU
Since 1932 the Institute of Fine Arts has been dedicated to graduate teaching and advanced research in history of art, archaeology, and conservation. This tradition was enhanced in 2013 when the Institute, revealing the potential of the Duke House’s beaux-arts interior as venue for contemporary art, inaugurated its student-led Great Hall Exhibition program. Acclaimed artists Lynda Benglis, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Rachel Harrison, Martha Friedman, Judith Hopf, Jamie Eisenstein, and most recently Elaine Lustig Cohen are among those featured to date.