Monday, February 29, 2016

Yue Minjun By Lissa Neira

Yue Minjun was born in 1962 in Daqing, China. His family moved to Beijing when he was a child and would later grow up to become one of the most important artists to shape Cynical Realism in China during the 1980s. Cynical Realism is a form of contemporary art in China that spiked around 1980s-1990s and expressed ironic and exaggerated expressionism about Chinese globalization. In many of his paintings, Minjun presents the only human character as himself. These figures are typically pinkish and have wide, almost-disturbing, smiles that give the sensation of laughter.

Minjun references many moments and artists in history.

For example, Minjun directly references the French painting by Eugene Delacroix, The Massacre at Chios about the Greek War of Independence in 1822.

The Massacre at Chios, 1994 by Yue Minjun.
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It is interesting to compare Minjun's painting with Delacroix's original:
The Massacre at Chios, 1824 by Eugene Delacroix
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The two paintings are almost complete opposites in colouring, expression and spacing, making Minjun's painting even more intriguing because there is more present in the art than what first comes to mind. It is also interesting to note that all the figures in Minjun's painting, including the horse, have their eyes closed. Perhaps this detail could bolster the idea that the people in the picture have gone insane and that they can no longer "see" reality because it is being blocked by their own eyes, their own internal insanity.

This next painting is a reference to the infamous Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh:
Starry Night, 2009 by Yue Minjun.
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This new image is also the exact opposite of the reference Minjun is making, all the more making this a spectacular piece. There appears to be no stars in this picture, and yet the darkness inside the figures' mouths match the very colour of the dark universe; the faces are the only things shining like stars. Ironically the people in the picture cannot see the universe and all its vastness, all they can feel is their immediate crowded situation.

In the following picture we no longer see the Minjun's hysterical laughter:

After the Wind, 2001 by Yue Minjun.
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In this painting, Minjun references a different type of art, literature. After the Wind was a book by Lou Kasischke published in 1996 about the deaths of climbers that tried to climb Mount Everest. The absence of laughter in this picture almost acts like the echo of a laughter that once was, or that was so empty and superficial to begin with that its absence and its presence portray the same emotion.

One of the things that fascinated me most about Minjun's work is that you cannot determine whether or not the figures in his artwork are fake laughing, truly laughing, or laughing because they have lost all sense of reality and have possibly gone insane. The homogeneity of his figures are also of interest because it can appear like all the figures are simply one character taking the role of many different positions.

Other interesting paintings by Minjun include:
Untitled, 2005
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Backyard Garden, 2005
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The Execution, 1995
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A sketch, 2000
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Bernstein, Richard. "An Artist’s Famous Smile: What Lies Behind It?" NY Times. 13 Nov. 2007. Web.
Madigan, Susan Pinto., and Hugh Honour. Instructor's Manual with Tests: The Visual Arts: A History, Fourth Edition, Hugh Honour, John Fleming. 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995. Print. p.824-25.
Events in history:

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