Words by Katie Farley
Living in a time of much political and cultural ambiguity, it is somewhat refreshing to witness a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek zeitgeist from an artist whose aesthetics abscond from our current unsettling reality. Employing an immediately humorous and visually infectious spirit, Yue Minjun’s oil paintings capture the artist himself in a range of surroundings, where he is seen to be stationary, in a state of unapologetic laughter.
This comical image is a reflection of Minjun’s artistic signature act that has additionally been recreated in the original formations that include sculptures, watercolors, and prints. Despite the artist being frequently classified as ‘Cynical Realism’, which is a Chinese art movement, he ignores this title and instead confirms that he is not in the least bit concerned as to what people prefer to call him.
His art pieces radiate utter self-mockery and recall community ridicule, whereby he frees himself and his internal emotions through his subjects that illustrate an exaggerated expressiveness. Further inspired by philosophical inquiry and contemplation of existence, Minjun’s imageries look to the Laughing Buddha figures and the crazy gap-toothed smile of Alfred E. Newman. Theorist Li Xianting describes the artist’s self-portraits as “a self-ironic response to the spiritual vacuum and folly of modern-day China.”
Yue Minjun centers his compositions on established European masterpieces and iconic Chinese artwork, where he then undermines the imposing impression of art history amid his version of pop images. These doubling characters are distorted and somewhat surreal, all adorned in the pink skin and are indicative of cartooning and the stylistic execution of graphic illustration.
Born in 1962 in Daqing, Heilongjiang province, China, the artist lives and works in Beijing. His hysterical self-portraits look to the familiar styles of Pop Art and Surrealism, an ingenious cohort of artistic types that inevitably suggest this is 21st-century art at its finest.