YUE MINJUN (B. 1962) Post-Modern Garden, 2006

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Lot 34W
(B. 1962)
Post-Modern Garden, 2006

Sold for US$ 509,000 inc. premium
YUE MINJUN (B. 1962)
Post-Modern Garden, 2006

signed and dated in Pinyin 'yue minjun 2006' (lower left); signed, titled and dated in Chinese (on the reverse)
oil on canvas

157 x 129in.
398.8 x 327.7cm


  • Provenance
    Robischon Gallery, Denver.
    Private Collection (acquired from the above by the previous owner in 2007).
    By descent from the above to the present owner.

    Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, RED HOT - Asian Art Today from the Chaney Family Collection, 22 July-21 October 2007 (illustrated in color, p. 182).

    "I paint people laughing, whether it is a big laugh, a restrained laugh, a crazy-laugh, a near-death laugh or simply laughter about our society: laughter can be about anything. Laughter is a moment when our mind refuses to reason. When we are puzzled by certain things, our mind simply doesn't want to struggle, or perhaps we don't know how to think, therefore we just want to forget it."1

    Beijing's painting scene in the early 1990s was redefined by a small group of iconoclastic artists known as the Cynical Realists. Recognized for their satirical approach to both their contemporary reality as well as to the conventions of their academic training, their works have come to embody China's post-Tiananmen Square Incident cultural climate as well as the face of Chinese contemporary art internationally. Yue Minjun was a leading figure in this group, and remains unique among his peers for his extended, deceptively subtle, and often savage inquiry into human nature.

    Beginning in 1993, Yue's satirical self-portrait became the dominant motif of his canvases, a manifestation of his own disillusionment with the credibility of surface realities, especially as the country moved from the pageantry of communism towards the seductive spectacles of consumerism. In essence, the artist turned himself into an 'idol' to satirize what he felt was an idolatrous society, one that is too easily influenced by images of mass production, whatever their ideology. As such, Yue's laughing visage has always carried a double-edge critique. It derides conformity, group-think, and submission; his "everyman" is a perennial fool. At the same time, the laughing figure, shown in repetition and, over time, in increasingly alienated circumstances, suggests plainly that the only response of the sane person in a world gone mad is laughter.

    Yue's earliest works bore explicit reference to his immediate cultural and historical circumstances, as seen in the riotous masterwork, Gweong Gweong from 1993 ("gweong" refers to the sound of bombs falling). As his works have evolved, Yue's has become both more philosophical and conceptual. In certain strains of Chinese philosophy and Daoist thought, there are as many meanings as there are vantage points, and Yue aims to deliberately confound the viewer's expectations with co-existing and competing references and visual codes.

    What then to make of Yue's Post-Modern Garden from 2006? In a walled in compound, atop a ruffled white tarp and against the backdrop of impossibly luscious greenery, half a dozen of Yue's figures appear in black speedos, in pantomime poses of relaxation and hilarity. One reclines, his head resting on his palm; one poses as if impersonating Diana Ross of the "The Supremes", while others stand casually about or are doubled over in laughter. Any one pose might easily appear in a fashion or lifestyle ad, and the figures seem to be pointedly disengaged with each other.

    Yue's color choices are simple and reduced, dominated by broad passages of white, kelly green, and the discomfitting sunstroke pink of the figures' flesh. The tarp resemebles that found in a photography studio, and it effectively hightens the intensity of Yue's palette while also adding to the artificial nature and brittle hysteria of the scene. The figures are nonetheless carefully modeled to give them form and mass, and in both cases Yue is mimicking the painterly styles of political propaganda with its simplistic, telegraphed messages.

    The title of the work implies that we are catching a glimpse of a private scene of leisure, hidden away from the prying eyes of the public. The brick in particular signals the walled compounds that quickly sprung up in the outskirts of Beijing for a new generation of elites. As such, Yue's subject is reminiscent of popular French 17th and 18th Century paintings of the aristocracy in pastoral scenes of blithe hedonism.

    With these "idols", Yue has also added one important element. Here all of the figures have grown horns. Unlike a Western audience who might see these as devil horns, the figures have no obvious corollary to an Asian audience, resembling at most images of demons and ghosts from Daoist descriptions of hell. Moreover the disorienting scale of the painting, the immense canvas combined with the suggestion that we are viewing creatures that are sub-human, reminds the viewer of Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, a canvas filled with fantastic, monstrous creatures, allegorical images of a corrupt and doomed humanity.

    From the earliest of his works, Yue's canvases were fundamentally oriented towards exposing the underlying moral and psychological challenges of contemporary social life, he is interested in the structures that guide and limit existence, and how they are manifest in contemporary life. He has stated, "artists are the kind of people who like to reveal... the never ending illusion of our lives."2 As the effects of communist era and the mood of post-Tian'anmen China receded further into history, the impact of China's rapid cultural transformation and embrace of consumer culture became more apparent. In the paradoxes of this painting – its disorienting scale, composition, and competing visual and historical references – we can read as Yue's view of his new, globalized social environment as an assemblage of overlapping symbolic systems, cultural registers, and ideologies. Their convergence is aesthetically seamless but emotionally disturbing, giving rise to a hybrid, not-quite-human race unlike any that has been seen before, looming large over their own landscape, loitering in private but defenseless, and utterly unaware of the larger context of the terrain they now find themselves in.

    1. Y. Minjun, quoted in M. Schoeni, Faces Behind the Bamboo Curtain, Hong Kong, 1994, p. 111.
    2. Ibid., p.11.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note the correct dimensions for this work are: 129 x 157in. 327.7 x 398.8cm
YUE MINJUN (B. 1962) Post-Modern Garden, 2006
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