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Art in Focus: Dominique Fung’s Large-Scale Murals and Vignettes Spotlight Hidden Perspectives and Histories

By Julie Smith SchneiderAug 18 2023
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Ever dreamed of discovering sunken treasures encrusted with barnacles or unearthing the skeleton of a long-extinct creature? Now, you can be an archeologist, of sorts, while exploring a new Rockefeller Center art installation featuring mixed-media works by Chinese-Canadian artist Dominique Fung. Installed throughout the campus, like a treasure hunt, this expansive exhibition rewards unhurried viewing, with surreal, unexpected layers of imagery waiting to be revealed. “My work has a lot of elements of excavating, archaeological and architectural,” the Brooklyn-based artist says. “You know that feeling when you were younger, when you're in the sandbox… searching for a dinosaur bone? That's the feeling that I want people to feel when they look at my work.”

On view throughout Rockefeller Center until November 17, this curated selection of Fung’s newest works, titled “A Tale of Ancestral Memories,” is the latest installment of Art in Focus, a public art presentation produced in partnership with the Art Production Fund.

  • Photo by Daniel Greer
  • Photo by Daniel Greer

Born in 1987 in the suburbs of Ottawa, Ontario, Fung earned a Bachelor of Applied Arts in illustration from the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Design in 2009. After graduating, she rented a small studio in Toronto, where she met fine arts peers who introduced her to galleries and art spaces. “When I moved to New York City,” she says, “I would go to The Met once a week, every single week, for hours and hours.” That’s where her interest and knowledge in historical artifacts blossomed — a recurring motif in her new exhibition. Fung’s lush artwork has since been exhibited at Nicodim Gallery in Los Angeles, Jeffrey Deitch in New York, Pond Society in Shanghai, as well as other galleries in New York, Hong Kong, Bucharest, Toronto, Paris, Taipei, and London. “In previous bodies of work, I’ve focused on ways of describing how Asian women tend to be objectified through media, through words, through popular culture,” she says. “Or how Asian women are conflated with an object, and so I sometimes paint these objects into the work to discuss that, whether it's overt or more subliminal.”

To create her recently unveiled Rockefeller Center exhibition, Fung has been working 12-hour days for the past few months in her light-filled, 850-square-foot Bushwick art studio, alongside her 15-year-old dog, Gucci. She has produced a suite of new paintings and cast about 100 resin forms for mixed-media sculptures. Conceived as a visual odyssey, “A Tale of Ancestral Memories” tells the story of “travel in uncharted territories, from the depths of an ocean dark as the night, through troubled waters washing softly onto the shores of a land of infinite possibilities,” according to the artist statement. Diving into ideas of unearthing, in myriad forms, Fung’s dark and alluring oil paintings and cast-resin and metal sculptures spotlight hidden stories, perspectives, memories, and histories.

Photo by Daniel Greer
Photo by Daniel Greer

Set against weathered backdrops dripping with gray and white paint, the three vitrines at 45 Rockefeller Plaza contain site-specific sculptural vignettes that seem to emerge from oceanic depths. Jewel-toned orange fish entangled in a cage. An explosion of seashells caught mid-flight, seeming to escape from the confines of a metal grid. A patinated net jumbled with fish, crabs, and replicas of artifacts from the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600–1046 B.C.) and Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) — objects that Fung says she’s drawn to, in part, for their armor-like quality and because they’ve survived for such a long time.

At the narrative heart of the exhibition, a labyrinthine, 125-foot vinyl mural installed on the Rink Level depicts an ethereal realm, originally rendered at two-thirds scale in a palette of sepia, terracotta, jade, seaweed, marine blues, and onyx oil paints on linen that’s been gessoed and sanded smooth. Throughout the surreal landscapes, you’ll encounter ama (Japanese free divers, a majority of whom are women, who forage for seafood and pearls) peering into ink-black waters, many-oared boats floating on churning waters, seashell flowers, coral forests, ancient objects, and wobbly bows and arrows wielded by disembodied arms. It’s a vision of an alternate world, the artist statement explains, “rooted in the redefining of the overlooked and misperceived” with “a reinvented history, in which patriarchal colonial perspectives come undone.”

This epic, career-defining mural encapsulates images and ideas that thread through Fung’s art — and it’s the most enormous painting she has ever made. “I thought, ‘Why not incorporate everything that I've been doing in the past couple of years?’” she says. “So, there are elements from the last four years of my practice, all in one painting.” The piece also doubles as a larger-than-life Chinese scroll, unspooling across the walls of the Rink Level passageway. It’s a dream realized for the artist. “I've wanted to do [something like this] for so long, but I just didn't have the space. How would you fit something like that even in a gallery space?” Fung says. “When I looked at the length of the [Rink Level hallway], I thought, ‘This was a perfect moment for that.’”

Photo by Daniel Greer
Photo by Daniel Greer

The exhibition’s storyline continues on vinyl murals installed on lightboxes and walls throughout 10 Rockefeller Plaza, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, and Radio Park. Fung’s advice for best enjoying the presentation? “Spend time with the work and really try to explore. If you stand there long enough, you'll see things that you didn't initially see, like a hand coming out of an umbrella.”

Traveling the halls of Rockefeller Center, visitors become active participants in the odyssey that unfolds in “A Tale of Ancestral Memories.” And this eclectic audience means a lot to Fung. “Everybody from every walk of life passes through Rockefeller Center. That's really exciting to me,” she says. “I still don't really believe it that my work is going to be at the Rockefeller Center! I grew up watching Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock in my small apartment in Toronto, and to now actually have work there is truly incredible. I’m really thankful for this opportunity.”

Photo by Mary Kang

Dominique Fung’s artwork will be on view around the Rockefeller Center campus through November 17, 2023. This installation is part of Art in Focus, a series of art exhibitions produced in partnership with Art Production Fund.

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