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Chen Yufei

Spiritual Wanderer: A Reading of the Works of Chen Yufei: Li Xu

Among contemporary Chinese artists, Chen Yufei can be considered an “old revolutionary.” He was born in 1962, entered college at age 15, and graduated by 19. It was 1982. The precocious artist devoted himself to the “85 New Wave” avant-garde movement and became the movement’s leader in Anhui. After that, he underwent a period of social upheaval that all Chinese artists experienced. For many years, he struggled constantly between the realities of life and the ideals of art. He went south to work in Shenzhen and abroad to study in Germany. He then rented a studio in Beijing to work and engage in shared creation, but, for the most part, he spent his time in themidsize city of Hefei.

In the last twenty years, Chen Yufei has always maintained a high level of awareness of changing environments and the complications of human nature. His work is a different kind of mirror image of contemporary Chinese society, like an abnormal branch growing out of the same trunk. The numerous and complicated, disorderly, and unsystematic backdrops actually conceal something that resembles spiritual symptoms. This is an era in which societies are becoming increasingly stratified and an unprecedented multitude of value systems exists. In the midst of major political and economic changes, attempts to reconstruct order and appeals of conviction were greeted with various challenges; efforts to fight for equality and justice also never cease. His recent works are usually flooded with a sea of faces, fragmented limbs, rusted machinery and polluted skies; this is the artist’s summary of real life survival. At the same time, it is a portrait of a chaotic society’s path of material and spiritual transformation.


"Chen Yufei is an artist who cares deeply about society"

Li Xu


Chen Yufei once commented, “China’s rapid process of economization has ushered in many fresh experiences, causing large conflicts between our ideas and actions. I think that for people like me born in the 1960s who experienced the revolution and once held naïve cultural ideals, being catapulted into the process of commercialization in this new era is complicated and taxing on the soul. Congestion and squeezing are the main feelings unique to my works. Whether it is perceived visually or psychologically, it is the same. I use almost frozen, convulsing figures to express the attitude of people in this particular point in history.”

Hefei is not a large city, but since the beginning, Chen Yufei’s art has had a distinctly urban feel. This has much to do with his long-term observations of urban culture. From a psychological perspective, the more people live in a place, the more strangers there are; the extreme disregard for individual value in a large city is therefore normal in day-to-day survival. From an ecological perspective, the more people live in a place, the more trash; the frivolous neglect of long-term benefits is also a malignant habit ushered in by high-speed development. From the perspective of a visual analyst, the more people live in a place, the more images emerge from it; chaotic sensory images cause humans and matter to interweave. Even a hometown can become an alien land. 
Chen Yufei’s early figurative and landscape paintings from the mid to late 1980s already reveal a visual perspective unique from that of the masses. Softened Cubism, Paul Klee’s morbidezza brushstrokes and hyperrealism all hint at his strong sense of alienation from the real world—lonesome and rebellious, aesthetic yet sentimental. Afterwards, in the early 1990s, in a series of experimental works on paper, he borrowed elements from Neo-Expressionism and naïve art. In this series, he expresses his internal conflicts and repression through a mad release of cathartic doodles. This can be seen as the beginning of some of the “violent characteristics” that would appear in later works. In the mid-1990s, his works reached a peak. Bright, bold colours and crowded surfaces began to dominate the canvas. Deformed people and prop imagery accumulate and become entangled, like a giant, solid, weathered wall. Decay and transience: this individual grammar began here and continues to this day.
Ever since the new century began, Chen Yufei has continued making art in which human figures are the main theme, but a complicated change has occurred in the formal language: thick brushstrokes have gradually thinned out, and dry brushstrokes have turned into softened morbedezza. The uniformly warm, coloured surfaces from past works have also changed towards a richer, cooler palette. Unlike the large groups in previous works, more often, a lone figure appears in his paintings. Those running, swimming and crouched humans allow the meaning of individual space to emerge slowly. Even as he continues to depict “man,” Chen Yufei has started to shift his attention to “matter.” In his opinion, the over-commercialization of society as a whole has already caused the “exit of humans” and the “entrance of matter.” As such, a series of fire engines, cars, trucks, pedicabs and other vehicles appeared. Some were covered with heavy snow, some collide in the crowds and some are parked in the junkyard, awaiting demolition. He created a series of intimate abstractions. Among the crumbling ones with “smoke” and “clouds” as their main themes is one that concerns environmentalism and reflects the perspective of someone who once studied classical Chinese painting. His softened, uncertain forms lead the viewer to rich associations.
In actuality, Chen Yufei is an artist who cares deeply about society, as evidenced by his quote: “I am someone who lives for ideas.” He maintains a keenly critical attitude towards the deterioration of human nature, environmental pollution, shortages of resources and the problem of restoring morals. Besides continuing to probe these issues in his paintings, he also completed a few installations and performance art pieces. Using different media and formal contexts, he explores the issue of human survival. 
Tracing the path of Chen Yufei’s art in the past twenty years, one discovers that he has always “resided elsewhere” intellectually; he is a “spiritual wanderer.” He entered society at age 19; what delusions fill such a youth well versed in Western classical texts? He was one of very few “avant-garde artists” in Anhui. How is an outsider to speculate about the loneliness of long-term living in a city like Hefei? Chen Yufei once told me that Hefei is not a famous historical site and that there is nothing spectacular about the city itself. Little moral or ethical consideration goes into its changes. Yesterday’s grassy suburb might become the construction site of a new large-scale development zone overnight. How is this “hometown” any different from a “foreign land?” In one of his latest works, a huge shovel has excavated the scarlet earth and the mound that floods the surface of the piece resembles a dismembered body; in the mist of the cold, gray backdrop, a large airplane plunges ahead with a quick blow. After analyzing the internal, psychological aspects, we can better understand his restless soul, the overlapping random images, his apathetic critical attitude and that intense, unique sense of social alienation. 
In today’s rapid urbanization, artists openly concerned with society are dwindling in number. The content of art is also growing more distant from the public domain and heading toward private space. Chen Yufei’s work is not crowd-pleasing. Over the years, his works have maintained consistency with his own impulses. In this regard, his efforts are precious, and his art should be valued among the prized works of this era. 

January 10, 2007

Translated from the Chinese by Philana Woo




Chen Yufei

Associate professor at College of Architecture & Art, Hefei University of Technology

1962                    Born in Hefei, Anhui Province

1977 – 1981          Studied in Anhui Normal University

1997 – 1999          Studied in Academy of Arts Braunschweig, Germany



Solo Exhibitions


2017       What actually has happened? Chen Yufei’s performance art theater Yuan Art

           Gallery, Chongqing, China.


2016       Cross-media Art Performance Installation and Experimental Theater, Hefei,



2010       Galerie Junger Shanghai “Reboot” by Chen Yufei, Shanghai, China


2009       Magee Art Gallery, Beijing, Rearview Mirror, a retrospection of Chen Yufei’s work



2008       Sheng ling Art Gallery, Shanghai, China


2007       Red Gate Gallery, Beijing, China


2005       M. Sutherland Fine Arts Gallery, New York,USA


2002 — 2005 Avant-Garde Gallery, Shanghai, China


1997       Chen Yufei’s Studio Opening Exhibition at the Academy of Arts Braunschweig,



1996       Chinese Grand Hotel, Knots—Art Exhibition of Chen Yufei, Beijing, China


1994       Chen Yufei’s Art Space Exhibition, at Yunfeng Gallery, Beijing, China


1993       Ron Einblau Gallery, Vancouver, Canada


1993       Gallery 13 in Hong Kong


1984       Nanjing Qinghuai culture club; Hefei culture club



Group Exhibitions


2017        2017 Red Gate on the Move, Red Gate Gallery, Beijing

            The 5th UP-ON International Live Art Festival, Chengdou, China

2016        BEIJING LIVE international performance art festival,Beijing, China

            Daily Reflection, Online Live Performance Art Festival

            116m2 + POP UP Painting Biennial, Hangzhou, China

            Cold Light, Exhibition of Installation Art, Hefei, China

2015        Depict Our Meeting in Xucun, 2015 The 3rd HE SHUN INTERNATIONAL VILLAGE ART, Shanxi, China

2014        Jeju International Experimental Arts Festival, Jeju, Korea)

2013        Voice of the Unseen, Chinese Independent art 1979-today, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice,Italy

            Infr’ Action Venezia, Venice,Italy

            Live Action8,  international performance art festival, Gothenburg,Sweden

            Tangled Dislocation Double Exhibition by Chen Yufei and Ma Baozhong, Xin zhu, Taiwan

2012        Guangzhou Live3, international action art festival, Guangzhou, China

            In the prime of vitality,  Lofty Gallery, Taibei,Taiwan

2011        Crosshairs, An Exhibition of small Scale works on Easel

            Red Gate Launch Pad, Red Gate Gallery, Beijing, China

2010        Landscape in Transition, Yuzi Paradise International Art Symposium, Shanghai, China

            21st Century Visual Artistic Archives Exhibition, Beijing, China

2008        Took part in Asian Contemporary Art Fair New York 2008

            Art is Nothing, Beijing, China

            Paintings and sculptures in a digital age, Chengdu, China

            Art Charity China - 2008 China Contemporary Art International Tour Exhibition, Different Perspectives, Red Gate Gallery in Beijing

2007        Took part in Post Avant-Garde Chinese Contemporary Art, Hong Kong

            Kunst hier und jetzt, das Kunstfest der offeren Ateliers in Braunschweig, Germany


Main Public Collections


Shanghai Art Museum, Today Art Museum, Beijing, Deutsche Bank, SIEMENS, Red Classics Gallery, China Guangda Bank, Yuanquan Advertising, BHP Billiton China IAC fund Henan Province Art Museum   Suzhou True Color Museum


Main Publications


Many of Chen Yufei’s works, articles, thesis and critics have been collected into many famous books and magazines, among which the most famous ones are “Contemporary Fine Art History of China”, “Contemporary Art History of China” and “Braunschweiger Zeitung” (Germany)

“The New York Times”





The connotation of my recent works can be summed up by two words, “chaotic beauty”. The roles, whether man or object, are spasmodic, unbridled, wild, restless, squeezed, jammed, bound, feculent, uneasy, disorderly and absurd without any exception.

Chen Yufei



10 am - 6 pm, Tuesday - Sunday
798 Art District,
No. 2 Jiuxianqiao Road,
Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
Beijing International Post Office
Box No. 9039,
Beijing, China 100600
(+86 10) 5762 3032
(+86) 137 0107 8721
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