Contributed by Clare Gemima / Painter Mie Yim evidently can’t quite understand how exciting she is. “Oh, and by the way,” she said as I had one foot out of her Bronx studio, “one of the paintings in the show will be installed in front of a huge mural.” She seemed convinced of the dubiousness of this idea even though she had landed two solo exhibitions and was preparing for both at once. I thought she would elaborate, but her sentence stopped there. Over the course of our conversation, Yim’s high-energy teasing had me waiting like an excited toddler for “Belladonna” at Olympia – in coordination with “Nightshade” at Simone Subal Gallery – to open.
Titled Rorschach, the painting in question is the show’s protagonist, smiling and spreading into a wildly endless field of exotic and possibly poisonous serrated leaves and petals. Its twisted yellow vinery also hosts spider’s webs and various suspicious succulents. A massive creature lurks in the canvas, helping bridge the distance between mural and painting but confounding any interpretation of the dynamic, which could be sweet, sour, or both. Hints of Rorschach’s wilderness are evident in “Nightshade,” suggesting that the critter may have flown or swum from Orchard Street to the Bowery. The elegant syncopation between the two reflects the artist’s quick wit, unpredictable sense of humor, and formidable trajectory.
Made during the pandemic, Yim’s pastel drawings on shizen paper conjure the zooming squiggles of Kenny Sharf’s 2019 Beyond Brooklyn mural, as though they have given Francis Bacon’s Lying Figure (1969) the most cataclysmic orgasm of their depressing life. In Yim’s #246, #252, and #298, we see vibrantly colored offspring peculiarly suggestive of ants, ponies, and ducklings. They may nod to the real world, but works like #207, #236, and #258 fling us back to the unfamiliar and grotesque. Surrounded by various environmental studies, her subjects – apparently drifting in her stream of unconscious – seem to take residence in a hazardous and barely fictional danger zone, featuring cracked ground, bubbling wetlands, and chaotically twisted piles of ominous debris.
You could say belladonna (aka “deadly nightshade”) coaxes interlopers into dangerous proximity by mimicking benign honeysuckle. But Rorschach’s oil-stroked swagger openly dares a risky embrace. The allure of Yim’s expansive imagined environment is unabashedly creepy and a little predatory, like the proverbial candy offering, toying with ideas about desire we might otherwise seek to avoid. The characters hanging on Olympia’s walls compose Yim’s enigmatic jury. There is a hovering intimation that they will render a favorable verdict only if the viewers they judge take the full plunge.
“Mie Yim: Balladonna,” Olympia, 41 Orchard Street, New York, NY. Through May 6, 2023.
“Mie Yim: Nightshade,” Simon Subal Gallery, 131 Bowery, 2nd Floor, New York, NY. Through May 20, 2023.
About the author: Clare Gemima contributes art criticism to The Brooklyn Rail, Contemporary HUM, and other art journals with a particular focus on immigrant painters and sculptors who have moved to New York. She is currently a visual artist mentee in the New York Foundation of Art’s 2023 Immigrant Mentorship Program.