Yue Minjun - Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from the Scheeres Collection Hong Kong Saturday, May 26, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Singapore
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Semarang Contemporary Art Gallery, Fruits of Change, 31 January - 9 February 2004

  • Literature

    Zhang Qunsheng, Today’s Chinese Painters, Yue Minjun: The Lost Self, Hebei, 2005, p.128 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Regarded as one of the leading representatives of Cynical Realism, a movement characterised by shattered idealism in the wake of the events in the 1980s, Yue Minjun articulates the highly recognisable humorous portraits of himself with the wide-mouthed expression of laughter in Penguin. In this distinctive painting, the iconic laughing character wraps his body around a furry penguin as if he is climbing or clinging onto the large flightless bird. Expressing a slight upward slant of the mouth and squinted eye, the penguin tilts its head back with its javelin-beak as if to share in the hysteric laughter alongside Yue and the viewer perhaps in reaction to the absurdity of the scene.

    As an artist influenced early in his career by Surrealism and Social Realist propaganda art, Yue masterfully embeds social commentary veiled behind the satirical mask of his guffawing faces to weave China’s tumultuous experience into his work with discretion. Riffing on the upbeat portrayal of proletariat and military heroes portrayed in Socialist paintings and propaganda that proliferated within the visual environment during the Cultural Revolution, Yue’s iconic smiles express the compulsory mask of satisfaction demanded in a society within which the appearance of the masses had become a state priority. (Nazanin Lankarani, ‘The many faces of Yue Minjun,’ New York Times, 5 December 2012).

    After creating a sensation at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, Yue gained international fame within both the contemporary art market and the permanent collections of numerous museums around the world. As such, the recurring theme of laughter within Yue’s oeuvre has been subject to a multitude of interpretations. Theorist Li Xianting describes Yue’s self-portraits as a “self-ironic response to the spiritual vacuum and folly of modern-day China.” (Li Xianting quoted in ‘Yue Minjun,’ Saatchi Gallery ) In the catalogue accompanying Yue’s retrospective show held in 2012 at the Fondation Cartier in Paris, François Jullien furthermore writes that the frozen laugh of Yue’s work “puts up a wall, makes any interiority off limits, bars any kind of feeling. As nothing more than a series of explosions, it shows that there is nothing to communicate.”(F. Jullien, “No Possible Subject,” in Yue Minjun and Hervé Chandès, Yue Minjun: L'Ombre du fou rire, Paris: Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, 2012, pp. 27-34).

    However, in contrast to Yue’s typically contorted and grotesque compositions, Penguin, moderated by its cool grey tones, exhibits a comparatively warm-hearted scene describing a figure embracing a soft endearing animal, albeit forcibly. Though Yue’s works often showcase manically cackling figures rendered in kitsch candy-coloured tones, the present lot describes a more nuanced approach to the artist’s infamously vacuous expressions. In response to the “post-New Era” of the 1990s that brought forth profound changes to the artistic praxis in China, the penguin resembles a large stuffed-animal toy, an index of the forms of materialism and globalisation pervading the visual landscape at the time. The global attention captured by Yue’s famous laughing characters attest to the artist’s popularity. Today, Yue Minjun continues to paint and sculpt in his studio near Beijing and is celebrated as one of the most influential artists of his generation.

Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from The Scheeres Collection



signed and dated 'yue minjun [in Pinyin] 2000' lower left
oil on canvas
140.3 x 107.8 cm. (55 1/4 x 42 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2000.

HK$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for HK$2,500,000

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Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from the Scheeres Collection

Hong Kong Auction 27 May 2018