1060
1060

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION

Yue Minjun
IMMORTAL CRANES
Estimate
6,000,0008,000,000
LOT SOLD. 14,480,000 HKD
JUMP TO LOT
1060

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION

Yue Minjun
IMMORTAL CRANES
Estimate
6,000,0008,000,000
LOT SOLD. 14,480,000 HKD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Modern and Contemporary Asian Art Evening Sale

|
Hong Kong

Yue Minjun
IMMORTAL CRANES
signed in Chinese and dated 1997
oil on canvas
200 by 281 cm; 78¾ by 110⅝ in.
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Provenance

Serieuze Zaken Studioos/Rob Malasch, Amsterdam
Private European Collection

Literature

Yue Minjun: The Lost Shelf, Hebei Education Press, China, 2005, pp. 146-147
Collection Edition of Chinese Oil Painter Volume of Yue Minjun, Sichuan Fine Arts Publishing House, China, 2006, pp. 88-89
Oriental Art: Master, China Today Art Museum, First half of August 2006, p. 18
Lu Peng ed., Chinese Contemporary Artists Volumes, Series II - Yue Minjun, Sichuan Fine Arts Publishing House, 2007, p. 47

Catalogue Note

The Iconic Smile
Yue Minjun

In the world of contemporary Chinese art, the symbolic smiling man by Yue Minjun no doubt remains at the forefront in representing the 1990s decade. These identical faces are not only self-portraits of the artist, but also portraits of a coming-of-age generation who must both live under the remnants of Cultural Revolution and at the same time experience the effects from the rapid modernisation of the Chinese society. Through accurately expressing the feeling of helplessness of the Chinese population, Yue has become a key figure in the notable movement “Cynical Realism” coined by pioneering art critic Li Xianting, revealing the disenchantment behind a seemingly perfect nation. Immortal Cranes (Lot 1060), painted in 1997 is an important work by Yue in the 1990s. In this scene of absurdity, six scantily dressed men wear nothing but underpants which represent the artist’s alter ego. They are riding on red-crowned cranes which are symbols of good fortune in traditional Chinese paintings. Under the blue sky, each of the men poses differently, each of their poses relate to scenes from mythology. Since Yue’s intention is to portray reality, the absurdity in his paintings supports the theme in a metaphysical manner. Red-crowned cranes are symbols of luck and good fortune, but here they have become ridicule and irony, reflecting the society in 1990s.

Born in 1962 in Heilongjiang, Yue Minjun is part of the third generation of artists after the Cultural Revolution. In 1991, his move to the artist village Yuanmingyuan on the outskirt of Beijing was an important turning point in the young artist’s career. It was during his stay there where he could experience true artistic freedom away from the limit imposed by government and academia. “This is exactly the life that I want. Everything is so great. It is not so difficult after all to become an independent artist. The rent is cheap, and the surrounding is better than studios. The most important thing is I can finally determine my own way of life.”1 This was where Yue Minjun met Fang Lijun and Yang Shaobin. Working and living alongside each other, they became the spearheads of Cynical Realism. Yue Minjun sometimes drew his friends in his works when painting scenes of daily life. Works from the period are very different from the more stereotyped iconographies of his later works.

For the artist himself, living during the 1990s, laughter has become a way to confront life. During the ’85 New Wave movement came forward a group of Chinese idealistic artists who were inspired by modern ideas from the West to revitalize Chinese culture. For Yue’s generation, the “Cynical Realism”, their witness to the failure of the two previous generations has instead raised fundamental questions for living. Unlike other artists, Yue has chosen to express his view on life through the absurdity of the big smiling face. “The image of a laughing face was to me an assurance that things would get better: that a future life could be as rewarding and meaningful as the Buddha promised.” Furthermore, for Yue, the action of laughing is essential to acquiring spiritual tranquility. “I believed that giving up everything was a way of life; avoiding conflicts in the society could attain inner peace. Giving up allows one to not hold grudge on anything, to be able to laugh things off easily, and to turn problems into thin dust. It is through this can we achieve ultimate peace with ourselves.”2 

Curator Li Xianting has pointed out that the repetition of smiling men configured in lines was the artist’s attempt at parodying China as the economic machine, one that mass produces commodities and upholds consumerism, “using commercialism and his empty-headed characters to present the problem of a consumerism which has poisoned both Socialist ideals and the individual of our society. This seemingly arbitrary combination of consumerism and anti-individualism gives a cynical and humorous edge to his work.”3 Clearly, the satirical tone and a critical examination into one’s state of being continue to be a consistent theme in the artist’s later works, where the smiling man began to don perfectly white aligned teeth, shaved head, and pink skin. The iconic figures in Paradise did evoke Yue Minjun’s signature aesthetic.

1 Yue Minjun, Sichuan Art Publishing, 2007

2 Refer to 1

3 Faces Behind the Bamboo Curtain, Schoeni Art Gallery, 1994

Modern and Contemporary Asian Art Evening Sale

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Hong Kong