Yeah, that thing’s real. It’s a special collaborative figure made by KAWS and Chinese art phenomenon YUE MINJUN for a special show of vinyl toys designed by Chinese artists called “Art For The Masses” at Taipei’s MUSEUM OF TOMORROW that opened yesterday (through July 27th). Featuring new sculpts by ZHOU TIEN HAI, LIU YE, JING YU, ZHOU CHUN YA, and YUE MINJUN (with KAWS), the show is the first to address the genre for a Chinese audience incorporating domestic modern artists. All figures have been produced in runs of 500 pieces for sale at the museum and are not being distributed domestically.
Yue Minjun’s first museum show in the U.S. opened at the Queens Museum of Art on October 14, 2007. One of the self-styled, Beijing-based artists who emerged in the early 1990’s, Yue Minjun has since gained international recognition. Yue Minjun has successfully parlayed his iconic smiling self-portrait into his signature motif, and is widely considered a pioneering figure in Chinese contemporary art.
Yue’s laughing faces are at once exuberant and eerie. Placed against various recognizable backdrops, the tirelessly optimistic faces compel the viewer to question the larger social context portrayed in each painting.
Yue Minjun began his career as a founding member of the “Cynical Realism” school. This group emerged in the early 1990’s, in the wake of the Tiananmen Square incident and the subsequent crackdown on artistic freedom imposed by the Chinese government. From the founding of the PRC in 1949, through the decade long Cultural Revolution that ended in 1976 with the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, art was solely created to promote Communist Party ideology. All of China’s artistic production was framed by a system of government-imposed directives.
In the current art world, Yue Minjun and his renowned contemporaries, including artists Zhang Xiaogang and Fang Lijun, are making artworks that reflect a social consciousness relevant to China’s changing political and economic climate. China’s avant-garde artists, many of whom are based in Beijing’s booming art scene, enjoy a surprising degree of creative liberty in utilizing parody and critique to comment on the state of their country. The attention these artists have received from the West also makes them less vulnerable to censorship by the central government.Yue Minjun’s laughing faces convey the paradox of present-day China. The jubilant expressions depicted on the hearty faces of cloned figures make us wonder about the reality under the toothsome smile. The backgrounds depicted, from a stoic Tiananmen Square to a teeming nuclear mushroom cloud, also allude to the shifting realities of contemporary China. The seemingly cheerful demeanor of these figures suggests an attempt to cope with the country’s complexities. Yue Minjun’s work begs the question: what is truly joyful? The key to decoding these enigmatic portrayals may lie in the rich cultural tradition that has influenced this artist from the Mainland. Yue’s laughing faces recall the “Buddha of the Future,” a welcoming figure located at the entrance of countless Buddhist temples throughout China. While his beaming faces bespeak contemporary concerns, they also implore an optimistic future.
Yue Minjun and the Symbolic Smile at the Queens Museum of Art will include bronze and polychrome sculptures, paintings and drawings and will be on view through January 6, 2008.
Andy Warhol, Banksy and Yue Minjun will star in London’s Sotheby’s upcoming October contemporary art sales. Warhol’s sketch “Large Coca-Cola” painting has a top estimate of 700,000 pounds, and Banksy’s “David” statue has a high value of 150,000 pounds. “Execution” by Yue Minjun has a top estimate of 2 million pounds. A Damien Hirst spot painting has a top estimate of 2.5 million pounds, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1981 “Untitled (Head)” has a top estimate of 3.5 million pounds and a blue untitled Mark Rothko work on paper from 1966 is valued at as much as 2.8 million pounds.
Sotheby’s, which is run from New York, values its three London sales at 48.8 million pounds to 68.4 million pounds, up from an auction total of 34.1 million pounds last year.