Artist Yue Minjun: Sometimes All You Can Do Is Laugh

Artist’s First Hong Kong Public Sculpture Exhibition Runs Through October 23

Yue Minjun, "Isolated Island," (2010) (detail)

Currently exhibiting his first Hong Kong show of public sculpture at Harbour City, Beijing-based artist Yue Minjun’s stature in the contemporary Chinese art world has yet to diminish after nearly 20 years in the game. A leading figure in the wave of Chinese contemporary art that flourished in the early 1990s, as Chinese art saw its first “boom” in the early 2000s Yue — like contemporaries such as Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi and Zhang Huan — not only became very wealthy, but also a high-profile player in the international art world. By 2007, Yue’s landmark work Execution became the most expensive work by a contemporary Chinese artist at the time, selling for 2.9 million pounds (US$4.66 million) at Sotheby’s London. Also in 2007, Yue’s global clout was further boosted by by his first museum show in the United States at the Queens Museum of Art in New York City.

After the global financial crisis took many previously dominant Western buyers out of the Chinese contemporary art market, new Chinese collectors picked up the slack by turning to blue-chip artists such as Yue to build up their nascent collections. This has stayed true even as the Chinese art market has seen a calming in the wake of its “second boom” in 2010-2011, with Chinese collectors picking and choosing only the best and most important pieces at auction while ignoring lesser lots. At the most recent installment Sotheby’s Contemporary Asian Art auction in Hong Kong, all three Yue Minjun works up for grabs found buyers, with his 2002 work “Faith” beating high estimates to sell for HK$2.18 million (US$281,218).

Yue Minjun "The Tao of Laughter" (Image: Yahoo)

However, in recent years Yue’s sculptures have been among his most visible works internationally. This year, 25 of Yue Minjun’s Warriors were installed at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, New York, while the artist’s sculpture “A-maze-ing Laughter” was installed for permanent exhibition in Vancouver, and — most recently — five of Yue’s iconic “smiling man” sculptures and 12 silk-screened prints went on show at the aforementioned Hong Kong exhibition. Next month, the artist is set to have his first major European exhibition at Foundation Cartier in Paris.

As his “Tao of Laughter” show in Hong Kong enters its last two weeks, recently Yue spoke to the Hong Kong Tatler about his art and the deeper — and darker — meanings behind his symbolic smile. From the interview:

Yue Minjun, “The Tao of Laughter”
Through October 23, 2012
Ocean Terminal Forecourt, Harbour City
3 – 27 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong

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Art & Auction, Culture