Dustin Yellin's Glass Ballerinas Take Center Stage at Lincoln Center

We talked to the artist about his 3,000 pound collage sculptures for the New York City Ballet.

by Emerson Rosenthal
11 February 2015, 5:15pm

Dustin Yellin’s Psychogeographies for New York City Ballet’s 2015 Art Series, on the Promenade of the David H. Koch Theater. Photos: Andy Romer Photography, courtesy the New York City Ballet

"I have the spirit of many dancers in me," says painter and scuptor Dustin Yellin when asked about his return to the world of dance for his collaboration with the New York City Ballet. Following in the footsteps of art duo FAILE and French artist JR, the 39-year-old artist and founder of the Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation, who once could be found breakdancing on the streets of New York, now has 15 artworks on display for the 2015 edition of the NYCB Art Series. Offers Yellin to The Creators Project, "It was only a matter of time that I would begin to jig."

For Yellin, who once documented a night that included trespassing on the Forbes family yacht and stealing the Chelsea Piers golf ball collecting cart, the collaboration serves as an opportunity to unite the representative qualities of his pieces, which are part of an ongoing series of large-scale figurative sculptures known as Psychogeographies, with the explosive movement of the ballet dancers. He sees a commonality between sculpture and dance in "the way space is charged and affected in some sense by the work."

The pieces themselves, each weighing in at over 3,000 pounds, are feats of collage artistry Yellin himself calls "window sandwiches," giant sheets of glass adorned with tiny paintings and cutouts that, when stacked together, form illusory 3D figures. "They’re views into the composite self," he explains. "We’re talking, existing, meeting, writing, thinking in a world where the Yeatsian 'blessed uncomposite' isn’t such a far off thing—though this isn’t a return to the prelapsarian wood. This is a view that anticipates the explosion of mind, when all the intricate matter of consciousness becomes reified, the content of 'illusory contours' and we see again broader cultural coherence, though this time very much anchored in accelerating technologies." In the intro to a book on Yellin's work, of Psychogeographies, critic Kenneth Goldsmith once said, "When one walks through Yellin’s army of glass-encased human figures (ultimately, there will be one hundred of them), it’s the force of the works en masse combined with the room’s ambience and drama that complete the works." In context, the sculptures will serve as both set pieces and fellow dancers around which the actual performers will leap and bound.

"I’ve always held that I’m directing movies that do not move," Yellin continues. "Rather it’s the eye, jumping like a frog on lily pads, from image to image. And then the viewer moving in the round, around the work. The image appears, disappears. Composition and motion through perspective." Attendees of the upcoming Lincoln Center performances on February 12, 19, and 27 will thus experience a spectacle at once as moving and cinematic as it will be static and sculptural. "I’ve walked into a silent room in which a single person was dancing," Yellin summates, "and I heard music that was not playing."

Yellin's works will be on display at Lincoln Center for all performances through March 1. They will free for public view from February 12-22. Tickets for the February 12, 19, and 27 New York City Ballet performances can be purchased here.


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