If you’ve visited Asian Art Museum recently, it’s unlikely you missed the playful creature standing sentry at our steps: a hulking, psychedelic dragon painted in every color of the rainbow, from its fiery horns down to its checkered purple sneakers. Taiwanese artist Hung Yi’s Dragon Fortune meshes together Taiwanese folk art, Japanese textile design, pop art and children’s cartoons, breathing vibrant colors and auspicious blessings right onto the museum doorstep.
You might recognize Dragon Fortune from Hung’s whimsical menagerie, Fancy Animal Carnival, on view in Civic Center Plaza in the spring of 2015 — that’s when director Jay Xu fell in love with it. Grateful for the donation from Taipei’s InSian Gallery, Xu is delighted by the dragon selfies proliferating across social media. He says, “Our building is historical and beautiful, but it’s a little serious. The dragon offers a joyful, lighthearted counterbalance. It makes people smile.”
Inscribed on the body are abundant Chinese expressions of good fortune, such as, “Every day brings buckets of gold.” (We’ll take it!) The dragon’s shape is fish-like, evoking Chinese folklore about carp transforming into dragons. “I believe that art can create the power and energy of happiness,” says Hung.
Chengyu & Auspicious Decoration
Artist Hung Yi decorated Dragon Fortune with an abundance of patterns and symbols.
Some of the imagery is taken from our modern world, including metallic, mechanized gears and colorful sneakers. He uses a color palette reminiscent of children’s comics and cartoons that is also inspired by bright hues used in Taiwanese folk art. Flowers, like the peony and plum blossom, are associated with the symbolism of wealth, honor, and purity in addition to being festive and beautiful. Smiling gold ingots carry connotations of prosperity.
The dragon is also covered in chengyu, poetic idiomatic expressions usually made up of four Chinese characters, artfully arranged in round medallions. Chengyu are used widely in conversation, and often relate to themes from Chinese folk tales, history, or philosophy. Auspicious phrases like the ones here are used to wish people well in many ways: long life, a loving marriage, success in business, good health, happy family, and a prosperous new year.