Yue Minjun - Contemporary Art Part I New York Wednesday, May 13, 2009 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Fortune Cookie Projects, Singapore

  • Exhibited

    Shenzhen, He Xiangning Art Museum, Reproduction Icons: Yue Minjun Works: 2004-2006, June 3 – June 11, 2006

  • Literature

    He Xiangning Art Museum, ed., Reproduction Icons: Yue Minjun Works: 2004-2006, Shenzhen, 2006, pp. 78-79 (illustrated); U. Grosenick and C. Schübbe, eds., China Art Book, Cologne, 2007, p. 566 (illustrated); Lorenzo Sassoli de Bianchi, ed., From Heaven to Earth: Chinese Contemporary Painting, Bologne, 2008, p. 189 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "The spiritual essence of the silly man is originated from the philosophy of Lao Zhuang [Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi are two ancient Chinese philosophers]. When scholars from historic periods confronted social problems, they often displayed a sense of helplessness. Many chose to give up altogether. I feel that the act of giving up is a condition of humanity; it prevents confrontation with the society andmaintains an inner peace. Letting go of everything allows one to be indifferent and detached. Any problem can be solved at heart, and subsequently turned to emptiness. This is how one may attain peacefulness with oneself," (Yue Minjun taken from H. Lee and L.Weng, eds., Beyond Boundaries, Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai, 2004, p. 180).
    Yue Minjun is one of the most important contemporary Chinese painters of Cynical Realism. In the early 90s, when he was still living in the painter’s village in Old Summer Palace, his works started to reflect the thoughts of uniform culture and monochromatic lifestyles. Borrowing from Chinese folk art, he employed the most vibrant colors and achieved high acceptance and wide recognition. For Yue, the goal of his painting is to address a series of complex problems with a simple and pretty answer. In a sense, Yue’s painting is a self-portrait; by duplicating the figure he is inventing new icons similarly to the way new icons are created by repeated exposure on television or in film. Today, the cartooned laughing pink faces have already established themselves as icons; they now have life forces and intangible charisma like Coca-Cola or even, Marilyn Monroe.
    While the branded icons perpetually extend through Yue’s artistic theme, the backgrounds they inhabit are constantly changing. From the earliest works of figures standing in Tiananmen Square to the more recent work of figures floating in outer space, the facial expressions of the figures remain the same. The variety of circumstances that the figure is in suggests heavily and carefully towards the dark age of Chinese politics. The enthusiastic laugh directs to the most fundamental survival instinct under political oblivion; causing them to question the meaning of existence. Having his parents’ generation survive World War II followed by the extreme political regime of the Cultural Revolution, then to the semi-capitalist markets I the 90s,Yue’s figures define a genereation of self-exile, solidifying today’s laughing icon from bliss, agony and self ridicule.
    "As with many cartoon characters, the expression changes very little. The power and the charm of what cartoon characters are able to express is the essence human nature. Where these characters are evoked in simple, stylized forms, the ways in which their creators make them interact with the worlds becomes paramount. The situations in which they are placed, and the nature of the stories they act out, have to reinforce the attitude we understand them to encapsulate," (B. Feng, Reproduction Icons: Yue Minjun Works, 2004-2006, Shenzhen, 2006, p. 8).
    The present lot, Backyard Garden, 2005 depicts Yue’s signature laughing characters tangling in between the artificial rocks in a traditional Chinese backyard garden. Along with the amplified laughing gesture, the characters are bending their bodies in a grotesque manner that resembles a type of Chinese Kung fu. The word Kung fu originally means “classical gymnastic ballet,” it was invented not to harm, but to defend. It has nothing to do with war or battle, but rather, it is an athletic dance. Many moves are derived from the observation of birds and animals, for which these skills are performed for the purpose of self-sustaining, not conscious aggression. As Yue summarized himself, “I decided to make a parody of the animal and bird postures that originally inspired the “dance.”The contortions to which I subject the figures highlight how far the art has come from the innocence of its roots.” (Ibid, p. 22)


Backyard Garden

Oil on canvas.
110 1/4 x 157 1/2 in. (280 x 400 cm).

Signed and dated “Yue Minjun 2005” lower left; signed, titled and dated “Yue Minjun Backyard Garden [in Chinese] 2005” on the reverse.

$500,000 - 600,000 

Contemporary Art Part I

14 May 2009, 7pm
New York