Minjun, Yue

Notorious for his deceptively ironic self-portraiture, Yue Minjun is a highly distinguished icon of Chinese contemporary art and a leading figure in the Chinese contemporary art scene. Based in Beijing, Yue was one of the pioneering figures of the Cynical Realism movement, often incorporating references to classical Western and Chinese works of art, including Chinese socialist propaganda and commercial art, as well as masterpieces by Caravaggio. Exhibited widely and recognized as one of the breakout stars of his generation, Yue’s aesthetic reveals influences from both Surrealism and Pop art, employing a dynamic color palette and cartoonish style to mask the artist’s inner solicitude towards what he views as deadly serious contemporary cultural and sociopolitical issues.

One of the definitive trends that arose in Chinese contemporary art of the 1990s was ‘self-image’. From his “Smile-ism” series, Yue’s signature protagonist – marked by a large toothy grin, pink skin, shaved head and closed eyes – resembles the artist himself. His exaggerated, ludicrous face is void of any imperfections, casting him as an unrealistic and superficial maniac. Beneath the humorous overtones of the protagonist’s hysterical facade belies the artist’s solemnity and anxiety towards a society undergoing a rapid and mind-numbing modernization. Moreover, the repetition of such a motif throughout his oeuvre embodies the conformist nature of China’s authoritative, communist government as well as the mechanical reproduction prevalent in consumerism. Yet, the variety in the context of each work regularizes the subject to maintain a personable sense of individuality. By portraying himself in a satirical light, Yue transports the viewer into the realm of the real world, creating provocative commentary on the extreme circumstances of his existence in the postmodern Chinese society and ours in the 21st century.