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b. 1962, China

Yue Minjun Biography

Few contemporary artists are more known for their self-portraits than Yue Minjun (岳敏君), whose oil paintings of himself as a pink-skinned, laughing figure have placed him among the most prominent Chinese artists of his generation. Growing up during the Cultural Revolution and studying at Hebei Normal University during the time of student protests in the 1980s resulted in Yue Minjun's artwork presenting humorous and simultaneously disturbing depictions of life in contemporary China.

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Yue Minjun and Cynical Realism

Yue is identified as a leading figure of Cynical Realism, a contemporary movement in Chinese art that emerged in the 1990s as a reaction against the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Informed by Surrealism and Pop art, proponents of Cynical Realism such as Fang Lijun and Liu Wei have employed humour to convey disenchantment with the communist regime. Despite Yue's own critical success during that decade and his signature iconography, however, the artist himself has denied allegiance to any particular school or movement. He once described his paintings as an attempt to 'make sense of the world', remarking, 'There's nothing cynical or absurd in what I do'. Nevertheless, Yue Minjun has also admitted the massacre's traumatic impact on him; it was the moment he realised 'the gap between reality and the ideal' and began developing a visual negotiation that would capture the societal changes in China.

Yue Minjun and his Laughing Figures

Yue's single most established iconography is without a doubt the depictions of himself laughing. These are open to several interpretations. The laughter appears innocuous in some works, such as Yue's doppelgängers catching a ride on cranes in Sky (1997). In Garbage Hill (2003), in contrast, the tower of laughing faces verges on the grotesque and sinister. Yue's self-portraits have been compared to the smiling Maitreya Buddha, who looks into the future and hides reality with laughter. On the other hand, Yue's laughter has been recognised as a parody of idyllic scenes in the Socialist Realist posters of Soviet Russia, which rarely ever resembled reality. If the laughing figures are parodies, however, as self-portraits they are also necessarily parodies of the artist himself. Yue deliberately blurs the subject of ridicule—himself, the government and the viewer—and laughter becomes a clever disguise for complexities under the surface.

Yue Minjun's art draws on Chinese history and well-known Western paintings, especially those of Édouard Manet. Execution (1995), arguably Yue's most famous work, bases its composition on the French painter's The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (1867–1869). Yue substitutes Maximilian and the firing squad with laughing figures, and the colours of the wall in the background are the same as those at Tiananmen. The gaiety of the figures, along with the absence of guns in the guards' hands, however, subverts the horror of the massacre, as if it were an absurd joke.

Yue Minjun's Museum Shows and Exhibition History

Yue Minjun first claimed international spotlight in 1999 when he participated in the 48th Venice Biennale. Since then, he has exhibited internationally participating in numerous museum shows, as well as major exhibition events, including the Gwangju Biennale and Shanghai Biennale, both in 2004.

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2017

Yue Minjun Featured Artworks

Some Day by Yue Minjun contemporary artwork
Yue MinjunSome Day, 2017Oil on canvas
90 x 70 cm
Pace Gallery
Maze Looking for Chinese Art-2 by Yue Minjun contemporary artwork
Yue MinjunMaze Looking for Chinese Art-2, 2008Oil on canvas
300 x 400 cm
Gary Tatintsian Gallery Contact Gallery

Yue Minjun Represented By

Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Pace Gallery New York, London, Geneva, Palo Alto, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing

Yue Minjun In Ocula Magazine

Jens Faurschou Ocula Conversation Jens Faurschou By Anna Dickie, New York

Instead of opening a gallery in New York where we would be just another gallery, I thought: let’s do it in Beijing where we can make a difference.

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Yue Minjun In Related Press

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Meet the artist behind the A-maze-ing Laughter figures Related Press Meet the artist behind the A-maze-ing Laughter figures 12 July 2017, Vancouver Courier

Yue Minjun smiles as he talks about the public's reaction to his sculpture, A-maze-ing Laughter, which has become something of a local landmark, drawing residents and visitors alike to English Bay's Morton Park. 'I didn't really expect it would be so popular,' he said through an interpreter. 'I'm really happy it had this sort of outcome.'...

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Liu Xiaodong Related Press Liu Xiaodong 18 May 2017, https://frieze.com/article/liu-xiaodong-0

Engaged with photography, film and painting for the past three decades, Liu Xiaodong has described his style as an 'open' one that explores thespaces between realism and abstraction. This vision is evident in theexhibition ' Chittagong ', a series of paintings based on in situ researchof the everyday realities of the men working in...

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Germany opens its largest-ever show of modern Chinese art Related Press Germany opens its largest-ever show of modern Chinese art 22 May 2015, Deutsche Welle

There's never before been an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art of this magnitude: Eight cities, nine museums, 120 artists, 500 works. For audiences in Germany, the question is on the tip of their tongues: Just how much influence did Chinese officials play in the making of " China 8," which opens to the public on May 14 and...

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Interview With Yue Minjun Related Press Interview With Yue Minjun 18 April 2015, Huffington post

Yue Minjun (1962) is considered one of the most prominent Chinese artists of our time. He was born in the Heilongjiang province, situated in the North-East of China and belongs to a generation of artists who grew up in the midst of the the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). This was a decade marked by repression and fear, with...

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