Why YUE MINJUN laughs so much ?

This man seems taken with big laughter at his studio in Beijing, in front of hilarious self-portraits. He is called Yue Minjun. He is one of the highest rated current Chinese painters,  and one of more impactful. His paintings, drawings and sculptures are marked with laughter, as sensational than enigmatic.

Born in 1962, Yue Minjun followed an academic art education at the Normal School in Hebei province, near Beijing, from 1985 to 1989. In 1989, Yue Minjun began his career, at time when the student revolt is crushed by the regime, as protesters are arrested, imprisoned or massacred.

In the 1990s, he joined the artists community of Yuanmingyuan, and operates the subject that would become his trademark : LAUGHTER. Despite appearances, the painter’s works are very political. In the same time, Yue Minjun has not yet used his own face in his paintings. So he represented his friends of the same generation that students targeted in the crackdown.

Then, several questions arise: who or what the characters laugh ? Is it a desperate laugh, crazy, opposite the atrocity of the events? Or the laughter is directed against the authorities ?

To understand, we must look at the works of the painter. In this work “The Sun“, for example, include the Maoist iconography and rising sun blood red.

But instead of the Great Helmsman’s face appear Yue Minjun’s faces, multiplied. After the events of 1989, the artists stayed in China, strictly controlled, had no alternative to get round censorship. Then, Yue Minjun represents here the eternally happy people, who evoke the peasants, workers and soldiers with smiles, of Maoist propaganda posters. This is obviously a thumb one’s nose at authorities. For the artist’s mask evokes a forced smile, a chuckle or a insane laugh. Very far from the peaceful development that the regime would have believe us.

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Yue Minjun, “The Sun”, 2000. Acrylic on canvas. Private collection. (YUE MINJUN PHOTO COURTESY YUE MINJUN STUDIO)

Next, how to understand the international success of an artist as much fixed in Chinese society ? Perhaps because of Yue Minjun’s work owes much to Western art.

This painting “The Execution“, the most famous of the artist, reached a record of 4.720.838 € in 2007. In the background , the artist inserted one decor of the Forbidden City. Yue Minjun is inspired by a French impressionist artist, Edouard Manet, with his painting “The Execution of Maximilian” (1867), and by the spanish Francisco de Goya’s painting, “El Tres de Mayo” (1814).

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Yue Minjun, “The Execution”, 1995. Oil on canvas. Private collection (YUE MINJUN PHOTO COURTESY YUE MINJUN STUDIO)

The chinese artist does not borrow that subjects in Western painting. In some paintings, He uses, as many chinese painters of his generation, flashy colors, cheerful, smiling and simplified forms that evoke the American Pop Art with Andy Warhol. But this colorful and artificial happiness is sickening. Yue Minjun assumes the “ugliness” of his work : “I ‘m not looking for elegance. In fact, what I paint is very vulgar (…). This vulgarity is well received by the public, because people don’t like elegance. I am compatible with popular taste“.

The laughter of Yue Minjun is uncomfortable. Even if the artist is laughing from us, the Chinese authorities or himself, the laugh shows an almost unbearable tension. As if the painter behind his fixed smile, had since literally lost his head.

 Sources : FranceTVinfo.

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