Disguise the Limit: John Yau Collaborations

Grants and Contracts Details


ABSTRACT This exhibition will examine the collaborative works created by poet and art critic John Yau in partnership with visual artists over the past four decades. On view will be approximately 80 works, including paintings, mixed media on paper, print portfolios, artists books, and letterpress broadsides. We will assess the process and results of his varied productions with artists including Norman Bluhm, Tom Burkhardt, Squeak Carnwath, Max Gimblett, Ed Henderson, Leiko Ikemura, John Lees, Suzanne McClelland, Norbert Prangenberg, Archie Rand, Peter Saul, Hanns Schimannsky, Pat Steir, Robert Therrien, Richard Tuttle, and Chuck Webster, among others. These works originated from friendships and shared sensibilities, and exemplify the concept of “serious play.” Yau’s poetry references visual art, film, detective novels, mythology, and musings on his Chinese-American identity. In his collaborations, his words serve as prompts or responses to representational imagery (figures and objects) as well as abstraction (gestures and geometries). He consistently uses puns, double entendre, and irony, with his handwriting as an important visual element in the compositions. We will locate these works within the history of collaborations between writers and artists, discussing the performativity of collaboration in general and Yau’s in particular. Investigating creative partnerships as opposed to solitary artistic efforts will allow us to examine differences regarding intention, process, status, and judgement. Our museum is a consistent resource for the university’s School of Art & Visual Studies, College of Design, and the Department of English, and this project will empower discussion among broad groups of faculty and students and make connections to existing celebrated traditions of poetry in Kentucky, including writers such as Wendell Berry, Jonathan Williams, Nikky Finney, and Ada Limon. Given the recognition of Yau and his collaborators and the deep local interest in literary endeavors, we expect this exhibition will draw approximately 12,000 visitors.
Effective start/end date12/1/226/30/25


  • Terra Foundation for American Art: $75,000.00


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