Yue Minjun (1962- ) - 1994 The Massacre of Chios (Private Collection)
Yue Minjun (Chinese: 岳敏君) is a contemporary Chinese artist based in Beijing, China. He is best known for oil paintings depicting himself in various settings, frozen in laughter. He has also reproduced this signature image in sculpture, watercolour and prints. While Yue is often classified as part of the Chinese "Cynical Realist" movement in art developed in China since 1989, Yue himself rejects this label, while at the same time "doesn't concern himself about what people call him."
Yue Minjun in the town of Daqing in Heilongjiang, China. Yue's family had been working on oil fields. When he was ten, his family moved to Beijing. He eventually moved to Hebei to find education and work, there he studied oil painting, he graduated from the Hebei Normal University in 1983. In the 1980s, he started painting portraits of his co-workers and the sea while he was engaged in deep-sea oil drilling. In 1989, he was inspired by a painting by Geng Jianyi at an art show in Beijing, which depicted Geng's own laughing face. In 1990, he moved to Beijing, which was also home to other Chinese artists. During this period, his style of art developed out of portraits of his bohemian friends. Yue had been living a "nomadic" existence for much of his life, because his family often moved in order to find work on various oilfields.
Over the years, Yue Minjun's style has rapidly developed. Yue often challenges social and cultural conventions by depicting objects and even political issues in a radical and abstract manner. He has also shifted his focus from the technical aspects to the "whole concept of creation". His self-portraits have been described by theorist Li Xianting as “a self-ironic response to the spiritual vacuum and folly of modern-day China.” Art critics have often associated Yue with the Cynical Realism art movement in contemporary Chinese art.
Yue is currently residing with fifty other Chinese artists in the Songzhuang Village. His piece Execution became the most expensive work ever by a Chinese contemporary artist, when sold in 2007 for £2.9 million pounds (US $5.9 million) at London's Sotheby's. The record sale took place week after his painting Massacre of Chios sold at the Hong Kong Sotheby's for nearly $4.1 million. 'Massacre of Chios' shares its name with a painting of the same name, by Eugène Delacroix. As of 2007 thirteen of his paintings had sold for over a million dollars. One of his most popurar series was his "Hat" collection. This series, pictures Yue's grinning head wearing a variety of hats. The artist tells us that the series is about a "sense of the absurdity of the ideas that govern the sociopolitical protocol surrounding hats." The series nicely illustrates the way that Yue's character is universally adaptable, a sort of logo that can be attached to any setting to add value.
In 1999 Yue began fabricating bronze sculptural versions of his signature self-portrait paintings, playing off China's famous Qin Dynasty army of terracotta warriors. While the ancient sculptures are known for the subtle individuality of each of the warriors, his cackling modern-day version are relentlessly identical, cast from the same mold. During the "Year of China" in France in 2003/2004, he participated to the exhibition "China, the body everywhere?" including 39 Chinese contemporary artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Marseille.