Dustin Yellin

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Dustin Yellin
DY portrait edit.jpg
Dustin Yellin
Born July 22, 1975
Los Angeles, California, USA
Known for Contemporary Art

Dustin Yellin (born July 22, 1975 in Los Angeles, California) is a contemporary artist living in Brooklyn, New York.[1] He is best known for his sculptural paintings that use multiple layers of glass, each covered in detailed imagery, to create a single intricate, three-dimensional collage. His work is notable both for its massive scale and its fantastic, dystopian themes.

He is the founder of Pioneer Works, a non-profit institute for art and innovation in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

In 2015, from January to mid-March, The Triptych, Yellin's 24,000 pound (10,900 kg) masterwork, will be displayed at S2, the New York gallery attached to worldwide auction house Sotheby's. In addition, from the 20th of January until the 1st of March, Yellin will exhibit an ensemble of fifteen Psychogeographies at Lincoln Center, part of the New York City Ballet's annual Art Series initiative.[2]

Also in March of 2015, Rizzoli will publish Dustin Yellin: Heavy Water, a detailed study of his most recent compositions. The book features lush photographs of Yellin's sculptures as well as critical essays exploring the significance of Yellin's work.[3]

Early life[edit]

Yellin was born in Los Angeles in 1975. When he was five years old, he and his mother, a real estate developer and entrepreneur, moved to Telluride, Colorado. [4] He attended high school in Colorado, but left before graduation because “’I wasn’t learning about what I wanted to do.’.”[5] He spent a year studying with a physics instructor, absorbing the rigors of the scientific method. Later, scientific knowledge, its possibilities and its limits, became one of the pivotal themes of his art.[citation needed] His education was rounded by extensive travel to remote places, trips which revealed the bizarre and eccentric in the everyday.

Yellin arrived in New York City in 1995. He was a complete stranger to the area and took to break dancing on sidewalks to help make ends meet.[citation needed] Within months, he had met a broad range of creative, talented individuals who influenced and informed his work. In 2005, He had his first solo exhibition at James Fuentes.[6]

Early works[edit]

Yellin’s earliest works were oil paintings on canvas, though he evinced a ready willingness to experiment with forms and materials. One series of successful works depicted cows spray-painted on artificial turf. Others show an aptitude for collage, with clippings from old magazines and reference texts infusing his works with conceptual as well as expressionistic color. Still others hint at Yellin’s preoccupation with the natural world, such as his striking pen-and-ink, one meter-square “tree-trunk” composed solely of miniature circles joined to one another like magnified epidermal cells.

In 1998, Yellin was apprehended by police for trespassing on a Central Park monument. He had become convinced “everybody knew each other” and believed his hi-jinks would be easily forgiven by a friendly peace-keeping force. He was brought to Roosevelt Hospital and was released shortly after his arrest. Subsequently, a video of the incident appeared.[7]


Innovative technique[edit]

Yellin's breakthrough came in 2002. When he was working outdoors on a collage, attaching materials from nature to canvas with a sticky resin, a bee landed on the center of the piece. Immediately, Yellin poured enough resin to quiet the insect’s helpless wriggling, capturing it entirely. Once the resin dried, Yellin continued to embellish the piece. Further experimentations with found objects followed. The effects were novel, suggestive of Robert Rauschenberg’s collages and Joseph Cornell’s collections.[8]

During this formative period, Yellin developed an innovative technique that appeared to use the atmosphere itself as canvas. By marking upon successive layers of transparent resin and stacking the flat images on top of one another, he was able to render multidimensional forms, objects apparently encapsulated in suspended animation.[9] The trompe l’oeil does not rely on the expert use of light and shadow. Instead, the effect is created by a painstaking process requiring the utmost patience and repetitive precision. Ultimately, a three-dimensional echo is created by the faultless alignment of partial images, the layering of which manipulates perspective and spatial perception to cause the viewer to believe he is seeing something that actually exists.

As Yellin perfected his technique, he focused on evocative, otherworldly mutations of living things, especially plants and insects. With a nod to the taxonomic art of the 19th century, especially that of Ernst Haekel, Yellin presented objects and beings that appeared real in all of the usual ways, save one: they had never been known to exist until that moment. They seemed like precious specimens collected from an alien world, “holograms trapped in amber.”[10]


Yellin also sought to push the limits of the technology and the materials. Enlisting the help of architect and engineer, Tony Durazzo, the artist began to make larger and larger pieces. “I wanted the work to be more than a just an object; I wanted it to become a performance”, said Yellin.

In a 2009 exhibition of this new work, Yellin’s Arboreum featured a “forest” of eight to nine-feet-tall, glowing “trees” and multiple twelve-foot-long sections of a “wildflower field”. However, because of the density of the resin, weight became a major concern, and eventually a forklift was required in the normal course of operations. The dangers of handling were starkly defined in 2011 when Gabriel Florenz, Yellin’s Director of Operations, was rushed to the emergency room after a piece crushed his hand, nearly severing two fingers.

Likewise, constructing the pieces was perilous. Yellin was photographed for a book in a hazmat suit required for protection from caustic vapors emitted by the resin. Concerned by the long-term effects of this production technique, Yellin replaced the transparent resin with costly glass panels.

The result sharpened and clarified the images, but more importantly, it allowed Yellin to revise and edit his increasingly complex tableau. The perfect flatness of the glass also allowed him to concentrate on the use of clippings from diverse sources, with an emphasis on images culled from mid-twentieth century reference texts or scientific materials.

The acrylic and clippings were assembled in layers to describe larger, recognizable images such as a human face or an animal’s torso. Portraits were created from discrete, uniquely toned clippings and computer-generated content in the way that one composite image can be created from many pixels, each of which is also its own separate image presenting a single overweening color.

The Triptych[edit]

The Triptych is Yellin’s largest and most complex work, a massive 12-ton, three-paneled epic that embodies his vision of the world and human consciousness. For Yellin, “the universe and the mind are shadowy places seething with dark magic, seas of boundless depth and possibility, overflowing with joy and disaster.”

In this composition, with clippings, acrylic, and glass, Yellin perverts the view of nature displayed by the soaring landscapes of 19th-century romantics like Frederic Edwin Church. Instead of a glorious image of nature and spirit, Yellin presents a vicious, surreal spectacle, a mythical, livid cataclysm. Humankind is caught unawares by a divine reckoning and elemental forces smash the organized world into disconnected pieces. The preternatural scene recalls the orgiastic, aberrant violence of Hieronymous Bosch, with the wickedly sunny garden recast as an ominous, roiling sea.

Invoking ancient religious tradition, a monstrous goddess appears, terrible in her vengeance, purging herself of the bile of ages. Creation myth surfaces as a volcano rises from the depths of the sea, spitting bodies and otherworldly debris, flooding a city it once warmed. And Yellin’s own wary ambivalence toward modern civilization is also on graphic display. Carefully chosen clippings depict an array of clever, innovative tools, but despite its marvelous achievements, human technology appears helpless when confronted by colossal power. Material progress is drowned.

‘Little Grandfather’[edit]

In 2007, Yellin and a small crew of filmmakers journeyed to the unspoiled interior of the Ecuadoran Amazon to produce a documentary on the little-known Achuar, a once-cannibalistic native tribe with a shamanistic, polygamous culture. Scattered along a distant tributary of the great river, the Achuar are a tightly knit association of small clans, each living with its own chief according to rules specific to that community.

Without relying upon traditional voice-over narration, the film focuses upon the Achuar’s unique shamanistic healing practice in which ayhuasca, a hallucinogen present in a native vine, is consumed by a medicine man prior to his treatment of the afflicted. The unique cultural practices of the Achuar are also highlighted, including the purgative wayusa ceremony, blowgun hunting, polygamous marriage and the brewing of the staple manioc liquor.

Yellin obtained special permission from the Ecuadoran and Achuar governments to film, and he and the crew spent two weeks residing with two different clans. All necessary equipment was imported with a twin-engine Cessna, and generators were required since neither village possessed electrical power.

The resulting film, ‘Little Grandfather’, is scheduled for release in 2014.

Red Hook[edit]

Yellin moved his studio to Red Hook, Brooklyn in 2005, purchasing a building on the corner of Van Brunt and Commerce Streets. At this point, his practice required a ground floor location, with separate assembly, painting, and staging rooms, and he renovated the space accordingly. Within eighteen months, the location seemed cramped. He and his then-girlfriend, New York photographer Charlotte Kidd, found a decommissioned printing works, two warehouse spaces with a two-story building sandwiched between them, and, after purchasing the buildings from a reluctant seller, they set out to renovate them as studio, gallery, and living spaces.

The Kidd Yellin Gallery at 133 Imlay Street was another iteration of a project that would be fully realized as Pioneer Works. Kidd, a native New Yorker, introduced photography into Yellin’s creative space, and afterward it seemed natural to integrate a gallery into the buildings, since the pair was familiar with the art world in New York. Kidd Yellin was presented as an alternative to the heady Chelsea scene, and the overriding concept was to present artists with a multidisciplinary approach.

After holding a number of exhibitions in the space, and after extensive renovations creating an apartment in the building’s core, Kidd and Yellin separated in 2009.[11] Yellin continued to manufacture his pieces in the studio on Imlay Street, but he had a far grander vision for his new space at 159 Pioneer Street, just a block away.

Pioneer Works[edit]

Originally built as Pioneer Iron Works in 1866, Yellin purchased this monumental, three-storey brick warehouse in 2011. The 1-acre property was split almost evenly between the vast structure and the attached yard. Pioneer Works required extensive renovation before Yellin and his ever-growing organization could move in, but once opened publically in 2011, the building felt as much like a cathedral as it did factory.

In the scale of its ambition, Pioneer Works recalls P.S.1, the contemporary art center founded by Alanna Heiss in 1976. It has been called Yellin’s “Gesamtkunstwerk”—translatable as “total work”—a term borrowed from German social theorists of the latter half of the twentieth century. Yellin’s vision for Pioneer Works was in fact inspired by Joseph Beuys’ notion of social sculpture. Initially dubbed The Intercourse (arts center) in an effort to describe the intended cross-pollination, the site was a space where artists and thinkers from diverse disciplines could come together to produce social change through innovative work, “a place the community can grow out of and exchange ideas – where disciplines can cross, where you can have painters and sculptors, but also filmmakers and musicians and scientists all under one roof”.[12]

When Yellin scouted the site in 2010, the building was packed floor-to-ceiling with boxes and crates, remnants of the stock of the prior owners, a moving and storage company. The interior was so crowded it was difficult to see without a flashlight. The yard was overflowing with junked cars, tires, broken furniture, and concrete rubble. Months of labor were required before renovations could even begin.

With the aid of architect Sam Trimble and right-hand man, Gabriel Florenz, renovations to the interior created a dramatic exhibition space with a forty-foot ceiling, practically large enough to dock one of the ships tied up nearby at the Red Hook pier. On the second and third floors, nearly a dozen demarcated spaces for artists and scientists-in-residence overlook the open gallery downstairs, and offices for the organization are perched above the expansive outdoor garden.

The nearly half-acre green space grew from what was once only a concrete slab. Tons of topsoil were trucked in, hills were fashioned with heavy equipment, and even a tunnel, four-feet in diameter, was buried within one of the mounds. Over two growing seasons, Yellin—working closely with garden designer Taylor Drayton Nelson from the venerable Magnolia Gardens in Charleston, SC—planted an extensive green space, complete with fruit trees and vegetable garden. The garden is home to a rotating cast of sculptural works, including a guest house built entirely within an otherwise normal dumpster.

In keeping with Yellin’s plans for the location, Pioneer Works has become an independently functioning not-for-profit institution, while he has leased yet another large space nearby for the continued creation of his own works. While he continues to serve as a figurehead for the organization, Pioneer Works is governed by a Board of Directors. In addition to providing a means of public exhibition, the institute also grants free studio space to artists and scientists who are selected for the residency program and offers courses on a range of artistic, scientific, and social topics.

"Black Tree" 2011

Selected solo exhibitions[edit]

Dustin Yellin
Installation view from 'Eden Disorder' at Samuel Freeman Gallery, 2010
  • Investigations of a Dog Half Gallery, March 20—April 22, 2012[13]
  • Osiris on the Table 20 Hoxton Square Projects, February – March 2011[14]
  • Nightshades Independent Ideas Studio, October 19 – October 30, 2010[15]
  • Eden Disorder Samuel Freeman Gallery, March- April 2010[16]
  • Dust in the Brain Attic Robert Miller Gallery, April – July 2009 [17]
  • Unnatural Selections Patricia Faure Gallery, January – March 2008 [18]
  • Permutations Haines Gallery, January – February 2008 [19]
  • Suspended Animations Robert Miller Gallery, May – August 2007 [20]
  • Dustin Yellin Robert Miller Gallery, New York, January – February 2005
  • Previous Works James Fuentes Project Space, New York, May 2002
"Eratoid" 2007

Selected group exhibitions[edit]

  • Jew York Zach Feuer, New York, June 2013
  • I Killed My Father, I Ate Human Flesh, I Quiver With Joy | An Obsession with Pier Paolo Pasolini Allegra LaViola, New York, February 2013
  • Brucennial 2012 Harderer. Betterer. Fasterer. Strongerer."" Bruce High Quality Foundation, New York, February 2012
  • Brucennial 2010 Miseducation Bruce High Quality Foundation, New York, February 2010
  • Conversations II Travesía Cuatro, Madrid, February – March 2010
  • Kings County Biennial Kidd Yellin, New York, December 2009 – February 2010
  • STAGES Deitch Projects, New York, October – November 2009
  • One From Here Guild & Greyshkul, New York, February 2009
  • Geometry As Image Robert Miller Gallery, New York, May – July 2008
  • Without Walls Museum52, New York, December 2008 t- January 2009
  • Conversations I Travesía Cuatro, Madrid, April – May 2007
  • Earth and Other Things: Dustin Yellin and Johanna St. Clair Lincart, San Francisco, January – February 2006
  • Among the Trees New Jersey Center of Visual Arts, New Jersey, April – June 2006
  • Black and Blue Robert Miller Gallery, New York, June – July 2006
  • Nostalgia Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill, New York, September 2005 – May 2006
  • Landings Susan Inglett Gallery, New York, January – February 2005
  • First Annual Watercolor Show: Ten Times the Space Between Night and Day Guild & Greyshkul Gallery, New York, New York, July 2004


External links[edit]