September 8, 2007
Ming Fay’s oversized, realistic, painted bronze cherries, apples, and chili peppers are what you might call “aesthetically modified fruits and vegetables.” The artist himself has described his jungle-like, room-sized environments as “mythical folk gardens,” and in 2005 the New York Times called his installation, “Ramapo Garden of Desire,” at Ramapo College, Mahwah, New Jersey, “...one of the most tough minded, brain-expanding artworks on view anywhere...”
“Tough minded” and “mythical gardens” may seem to be contradictory judgments from the critic and the artist, not surprisingly, perhaps, but Ming’s items of pumped up produce are wildly amusing, in a sinister Hitchcockian way, while his overgrown, all-over environments are mesmerizing and unsettling at the same time.
The garden and its fruits, of course, are loaded with significance in every culture. They infer the natural cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth, and represent repressed sexual appetites and desires, among other things. While the Times highlighted Ming’s botanical references and those to Chinese traditions, particularly, in this instance, to Han dynasty funerary objects, we can also make all the Western art associations, from Eden, paradise and the serpent, to the giants of Rabelais and Jonathan Swift, and the monstrous fruits that appear prominently in Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Delights,” all the way to Claes Oldenburg, Red Grooms, Robert Therien, and a Judy Pfaff environment.
Ming has noted that his environments spring from a personal “inventory of fruits, plants, seeds, herbs, bones and mysterious objects” and are “reminiscent of science fiction films” — which makes one wonder if Ming’s works might have more to do with the 1957 cult film classic, “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” say, than they do Bosch or Red Grooms.
Biography is sometimes destiny, and it is worth noting that Ming was born in Shanghai in the middle of WWII and raised in Hong Kong by his artist mother and father, who worked in the growing, post-war Hong Kong film industry. Indeed, his parents were both students of the Shanghai-based, European-trained sculptor, Zhang Chongren. Ming came to the States for art school when he was 18, earned a graduate degree from University of California, Santa Barbara in 1975, and teaches sculpture today at William Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey.
Ming’s serio-comic, sci-fi tinged vision is constructed of steel wire, gauze, plaster, rhoplex, acrylic pigment, painted bronze and anything useful. While commenting obliquely on the botanical world and the human condition, Ming’s constructions and installations offer pure retinal pleasure and the subversive humor of playing with scale. The poet John Yau has remarked that Ming’s overripe work “reminds us that nature, rather than culture, is what we all finally inhabit.” One might go further and observe that we do not so much “inhabit nature,” as we are an integral part of it, and it is this fact that Ming offers for our consideration. Also, while humanity yearns for mythical gardens and lost utopias, it is the futility, and perhaps even the fatality, of such longings and desires that Ming suggests with his little slices of Eden.