Yue Minjun - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 23, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Beijing (acquired directly from the artist)
    Private Collection, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    Yue Minjun: Soaking in Silly Laughter, exh. cat., Soobin Art Gallery, Singapore, 2002, pp. 10-11 (illustrated)
    Reproduction Icons: Yue Minjun Works, 2004-2006, exh. cat., He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen, 2006, p. 27 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    A caricature could express so much more humanity, and having decided that this would be my ultimate subject, why not create a caricature of myself to convey the stories I wanted to relate to.” – Yue Minjun

    Depicted in his seminal realist style and vibrant colour palette, Yue Minjun’s Mushroom Cloud presents the viewer with a battalion of grinning frozen-faced clones, set against a billowing, explosive background. Painted in 2002, the present work is an epitome of Yue’s celebrated aesthetic, comprised of the artist’s laughing characters that are immediately humorous and instantly recognisable. With connotations of the laughing Buddha, this work presents nine identical bright pink faces of the artist himself – each with smart rows of tiny white teeth and framed by a smooth, neat crop of black hair. The incorrigible, open-mouthed laugh that features on each self-portrait has become one of the foremost icons of contemporary Chinese art and in many ways, a symbol of the shifting sensibilities of an entire generation.

    Born in 1962 in Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province, Yue belongs to a generation who grew up during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) under the guise that “we will triumph only when we march to the same tune”. Art from this period was subjugated to politics, and the “red, bright, and luminescent” compositions had to serve socialism and the people – often advocating the greatness of labourers or heroes. In the post-cultural revolution era that followed, China underwent rapid transformation, particularly when economic change in the 1990s began to exert an irrevocable force on the lives of Chinese people. In response to the psychological implications of China’s rapid development, urbanisation, and opening to the West – a new art movement emerged: ‘Cynical Realism’, of which Yue is considered as one of the defining protagonists. In combining unique pictorial and historical references of China’s evolution, Yue and his contemporaries – including Wang Guangyi, Fang Lijun and Zhang Xiaogang - were ultimately responsible for driving art practices in the country towards its prominent secondary phase. In deliberately employing the defining characteristics of ‘Social Realism’ propaganda art in his body of work, as seen in the red-toned faces in the present painting, Yue transforms them into a satirical commentary on how the nation sugar-coated reality. In doing so, the artist’s distinctive iconography and implicit political commentary offer a further ironic parody of contemporary Chinese society.

    Whilst the act of grinning is typically indicative of a joyful atmosphere, Yue’s iconic laughing visages are rendered in an almost jaw-breaking hysteria, with white teeth bared and eyes tightly shut. Mushroom Cloud is a particularly captivating piece from Yue’s oeuvre due to the artist’s use of repetition, as the artist lines up his faces in a way that resembles a military formation, even alluding to terracotta warrior sculptures. As the row is composed at the bottom of the canvas pane, the viewer’s eyes are thus drawn to look behind their heads at the background, featuring a mushroom cloud set against a bright blue sky. Bearing an allusion to the explosion of China’s first atomic bomb in 1964, which marked the country’s entrance into the ranks of global nuclear powers, Yue juxtaposes the underlying sense of peril with lighthearted laughter. The sense of absurdity that this contrast evokes contributes to what is a dynamic example of the artist’s psychologically complex paintings.

    Sleek in its execution, Yue’s composition of the present work masterfully balances the ornate and intelligent, imaginative and realistic, as well as the disordered and the considerably composed. In combining appropriated elements from propaganda posters with the simple and visually direct language of contemporary advertising, Yue succeeds in discarding traditional aesthetics in favour of a new style that derives from our contemporary cultural context. As the connotations in Mushroom Cloud merge to convey the vast enormity of China, ranging from the country's rich history to its vibrant culture and individual strives – the arresting composition undoubtedly confirms Yue’s position as one of China’s most progressive voices.

    With his recognisable signature motifs, Yue’s work has garnered international acclaim, with solo exhibitions in key galleries and museums throughout his career. Widely collected, Yue’s work has also found a place in the permanent collections of institutions including the Guang Dong Art Museum in China, the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, the Francois Mitterrand Cultural Center in France and the Busan Museum of Art in Korea, amongst others. Considered to be amongst the handful of contemporary Chinese giants, Yue has left an influential mark as a leading painter of his generation and era.

Property of an Important American Collector


Mushroom Cloud

signed and dated 'yue minjun 2002' lower right
acrylic on canvas
300 x 220 cm. (118 1/8 x 86 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2002.

HK$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for HK$2,375,000

Contact Specialist
Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 24 November 2019