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  #1  
Old 11-13-2007, 12:59 AM
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Merlion Merlion is offline
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What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

Chinese artist Yue Minjun recently achieved international stardom on the strength of his signature grin. His painting 'Execution' was sold for $5.9 million at a Sotherby auction, a record sum for a contemporary Chinese painting. He does sculptures based on this smile as well, see further below.

An Artist’s Famous Smile: What Lies Behind It?, from the NY Times.


Nov 13, 2007. Your first reaction upon meeting Yue Minjun might be, yes, it is indeed he! The face with the enigmatic, jaw-breaking grin, perhaps the most recognizable image in contemporary Chinese painting, is a self-portrait.

“Yes, it’s me,” Mr. Yue said in a recent interview, and he smiled, though in a gentler, less face-splitting fashion than the man in his paintings — the one who drifts Zelig-like past various familiar backgrounds making a sardonic, or perhaps ironically despairing, comment on the passing scene.

Mr. Yue, 45, was in New York in October for the opening of an exhibition of his paintings and sculptures that continues through Jan. 6 at the Queens Museum of Art. The show, “Yue Minjun and the Symbolic Smile,” is the first American museum exhibition of Mr. Yue’s work and further evidence of his remarkable rise in the superheated field of Chinese contemporary art.

A few years ago, Mr. Yue was eking out a precarious existence in one of Beijing’s artist colonies, trying to figure out a way to weave China’s tumultuous experience into his works. Now, largely on the strength of that signature grin, he has achieved stardom internationally.

Most conspicuously, one of his paintings, “Execution” (1995), a satirical Pop Art-like version of Manet’s “Execution of Maximilian” that was inspired by the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square, sold for $5.9 million last month at an auction at Sotheby’s in London. It was a record sum for a contemporary Chinese painting. For Mr. Yue, the huge sums suddenly commanded by his works — “The Pope” (1997), depicting him as a prelate, went for $4.3 million in June — have involved a readjustment. ....

“A smile,” Mr. Yue said, “doesn’t necessarily mean happiness; it could be something else.”

The smile has been variously interpreted as a sort of joke at the absurdity of it all, or the illusion of happiness in lives inevitably heading toward extinction.

Karen Smith, a Beijing expert on Chinese art, suggests that Mr. Yue’s grin is a mask for real feelings of helplessness.

“In China there’s a long history of the smile,” Mr. Yue said. “There is the Maitreya Buddha who can tell the future and whose facial expression is a laugh. Normally there’s an inscription saying that you should be optimistic and laugh in the face of reality.”

“There were also paintings during the Cultural Revolution period, those Soviet-style posters showing happy people laughing,” he continued. “But what’s interesting is that normally what you see in those posters is the opposite of reality.”

Mr. Yue said his smile was in a way a parody of those posters. But, since it’s a self-portrait, it’s also necessarily a parody of himself, he added.

“I’m not laughing at anybody else, because once you laugh at others, you’ll run into trouble, and can create obstacles,” he said. “This is the way to do it if you want to make a parody of the things that are behind the image.”

The real reason he paints himself is that it gives him a greater margin for freedom of expression, he explained.....


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Last edited by Merlion : 11-13-2007 at 01:13 AM.
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  #2  
Old 11-13-2007, 03:09 AM
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evaldart evaldart is offline
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

So all his work now somehow involves the use of that smile? Sheesh, he must see that face-stretcher in his sleep. Better than a frown I suppose, and carried off pretty well...gimmicky. I'm puzzled by the 6 million dollar sale...would't want to be him.
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Old 11-13-2007, 08:27 AM
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

The smile is a parody of....(fill in with the most convient or lucrative issue of the hour).
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Old 11-13-2007, 11:00 AM
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

This seems to be a case of the artist hitting, repeating and continuing with the right note, showing his self portrait with a big smile. This idea attracted good response among collectors. It is also timing, as this is just when Chinese contemporary art is starting to get hot.

What is special about the big smile is partly cultural among the Chinese. It is also party a result of recent history of China as mentioned in the article quoted.

By the way, Evaldart, his record $5.9 million auction sale was preceded by an earlier record auction sale at $4.3 million according to this NYT report.
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Last edited by Merlion : 11-13-2007 at 05:11 PM.
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Old 11-13-2007, 12:24 PM
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

And you thought investing in the stock market was risky? Child's play. Obviously. The smile is identical to the one the last child sitting has in musical chairs.
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Old 11-14-2007, 10:03 AM
ironman ironman is offline
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

I think these works are advertisements for an orthdontists office.
OR, maybe the artist is a frustrated orthodontist who flunked out of dental school and is making the best of it.
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  #7  
Old 11-20-2007, 12:29 AM
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Mr. Malloy Mr. Malloy is offline
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

Merlion, how do you find all these things? I don't have times to... Are you a speed reader? About the smiles; I like to expose myself to all kinds of art all the time and appreciate the work even if i personally don't care for it. I imagine that some of his work in my liveringroom would begine to make me less depressed about this gloomy, SLUG CAPITAL of the world. Pacific NW. I remember the idea of repeated motifs in art school but his work seems re-pet-tat-tive. In a big way. Look I don't know, I also am not a speed typer either. Thanks for the post.
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Old 11-20-2007, 03:09 AM
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Malloy View Post
Merlion, how do you find all these things? I don't have times to...
Instead of replying to you here, I have started a new thread specifically on this. It is here below. Enjoy.

Online News About Scupture and Sculptor
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  #9  
Old 11-20-2007, 04:02 AM
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

Interesting – the grin of post 1 is on the face of a devil of some kind (hence the horns), and offers me a different perspective on the same facial expression as that of the later post of the 3 guys. There is an element of self-absorbion here, with the overwhelming grin accompanied by the closed eyes. There is something idiotic here too, and maybe mindlessness. The 3 guys lined up in identical poses, clothes and grins seem to comment on the loss of something, and of a social impulse to be agreeable. When you are grinning you aren’t being critical – these aren’t ‘fun’ grins, they are the grins of conformity, as the poses and clothes also suggest.

Laughter is also traditionally associated with a recognition of the absurd, and is often used to convey that we are enjoying ourselves. The extent of this grin, spread equally across all the faces, seems false, perhaps hysterically so, and the grin itself becomes ironically absurd.

There may also be a cultural context here too, but I'm not sure how to approach it....
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Old 11-20-2007, 10:11 AM
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cantab View Post
There may also be a cultural context here too, but I'm not sure how to approach it....

Don't approach it...run like hell in the opposite direction!
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Old 11-20-2007, 10:40 AM
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

Quote:
Don't approach it...run like hell in the opposite direction!
But my legs won't move, and they're gaining on me! Move legs! Dammit, move! Oh, those works are just images from a terrible nightmare...I wish.
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  #12  
Old 11-20-2007, 10:53 AM
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

Quote:
Originally Posted by Merlion View Post
This seems to be a case of the artist hitting, repeating and continuing with the right note, showing his self portrait with a big smile. This idea attracted good response among collectors. It is also timing, as this is just when Chinese contemporary art is starting to get hot.

What is special about the big smile is partly cultural among the Chinese. It is also party a result of recent history of China as mentioned in the article quoted. ...
It is not easy to understand why this artist Yue can repeatedly hit the right note among art collectors with his self portrait with a biig laughing smile. This is my guess below.

China has gone through a very tough time during Mao's Big Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution in the 60's to mid 70's. There is no way people can outwardly express their anger and fustration at the extreme repressive sufferings. Perhaps one way is to vent them out as laughter. This cannot be regarded as protests by the authorities as uncontrolled laughter is just a sign of the beginning of mental breakdown. Those who have gone through this tough period in China probably understand what this uncontrolled laughter means.
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Old 11-23-2007, 09:16 PM
mollycarpenter mollycarpenter is offline
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

It looks so synester (cant spell).
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Old 11-29-2007, 10:02 AM
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

In post #1, two weeks ago, I mentioned the news of a record price of US$5.9 m for a Chinese contemorary art by Yue Minjun. This record has just been broken. It is at an Christie's art auction on Sunday in Hong Kong. The new record price is $9.5 m for a set of 14 gunpowder paintings by Cai Guo-Qiang, see link below.

Chinese abstract artist breaks world record at Hong Kong auction
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Old 11-29-2007, 10:51 AM
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Re: What Lies Behind the Artist's Famous Smile

I notice something about the art market when comparing these living artist record prices. They are going up fast.

This record price of $9.5 m for a work by a living Chinese artist broke the previous record price of $5.9 m set just two weeks ago.

If we look at the record price for a work by a living artist worldwide, the record $23.6m set recently by Jeff Koons broke the previous record $19.1m set a few months before that by Damien Hirst.

This is the reason these artists are smiling.
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