Yue Minjin: Mocking the Military, the Old Masters and the Market

Yue Minjin, The Execution, 1995

Yue Minjun, born in 1962, is one of China’s most recognisable contemporary artists. His candy coloured, pop art portraits, take an alternative approach to expressing the feeling of life under a restrictive regime.

In the painting above, The Execution, Minjun paints multiple copies of himself laughing irreverently whilst playing all the characters of Édouard Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian (1867–69). It is a typical Minjun piece. With this sardonic style he can mock the military authorities; like many artists in the wake of the Tiananmen Sqaure massacre, he will not overtly criticise them for fear of more killings or imprisonment.

Yue Minjin, Gweong Gweong, 1993

Having ‘always found laughter irresistable’, Minjin’s concept – his arsenal of self-caricatures, show the individuals in chinese society as disposable and alienated. Their smiles veiling their true emotions. The format works particularly well in Gweong Gweong as the artist’s caricature falls like missiles onto the public outside The Gate of Heavenly Peace. It comments on the tragedy of a nation that conducts war on its own people. The way in which he contrasts their ridiculing smiles with rigid restrained bodies and his use of an acidic colour palette make the works remarkably disturbing.

Minjun’s paintings have fetched some of the highest prices at auction with one peice raking in a record breaking 6million USD in 2007. Yet still reproducing the same iconic figure painting after painting, some critics have claimed that the artist is now either mocking the art market or ‘sold out’ to it. Either way, the weighty figures that are fetched for a Minjun masterpeice have the painter laughing all the way to the bank.

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