Arario Gallery, Beijing
Looking For Terrorists, Beijing, June 9 - July 29, 2006
Acrylic on canvas
220(L) x 334(W) cm
Signed lower right Yue Minjun in English, dated 2006
1,500,000 - 2,500,000
6,150,000 - 10,250,000
196,900 - 328,100
Yue Minjun is one of the leading players in the post-1989 "Cynical Realist' movement, one of the major artistic movements in contemporary Chinese art that arose after a silence of two years following the traumatic events of 1989, the closure on the opening day of the first avant-garde art exhibition in the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, and then the events of Tiananmen Square in June. The trauma and pain of these two events had a deep and profound effect on the artistic world and were to have a major influence on the new art which was to emerge in the early 1990s. It was clear that open questioning of the regime, or exploration of a corrupt society in art, would not be tolerated by the authorities. In fact, after the events of 1989, artists were particularly vulnerable as a nervous government was determined to stamp out all dissent.
For Yue Minjun and his contemporaries this was a period of terrible pain. Having grown up in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, they had embraced the opening of China to the West and explored all the new art forms they discovered both in terms of style and substance. Having been forced to paint only propaganda posters, they reveled in the newfound freedom of expression, and delved into the world of individualism representing their angst, anger and puzzlement in their artworks. 1989 brought this new world crashing down. Two years of profound silence, deep thought and complete isolation followed. And then a very Chinese answer to their conundrum emerged. The way to deal with the absurdities of society was to employ humor or irony. Humor became the great weapon of "Cynical Realism', and Yue Minjun one of its greatest proponents.
Yue was born in 1962 to parents working in the oil industry, and who constantly migrated throughout the oil fields of China. He grew up in closed communities in oil companies and had almost no contact with the outside world. His education consisted of being told what to do and what to think. He became an electrician in the oil fields for five years and spent much of this time in isolated places even on offshore oil platforms often alone for long periods of time. His only solace was his art, it was his only outlet for expressing his inner-self. He enrolled in Hebei Normal University to study oil painting and on graduating received a secure job as an art teacher. However, he was unable to contain an energy flowing within, and quit his job, moving to a very run down artists village in the outskirts of Beijing. His parents were appalled, but Yue was deeply attracted by his newfound freedom. He could suddenly decide his own life, how to spend a whole day and even how long to grow his hair. It was a major shock for him to discover that the life he had been leading was not the real world and that something vital and vibrant had been lost.
Laugh or cry? Yue was faced with the eternal question when faced with the absurdities of life. In true Chinese style, he chose to laugh, and thus created one of the most recognizable images or indeed icons of contemporary Chinese art, his laughing self-image, an exaggerated self. In Chinese tradition things shouldn't be said directly, especially criticism. These things should be hidden behind a veil, which in Yue's case was ridiculous, absurd laughter. Painting multiple laughing images of himself against backdrops of serious major events allowed Yue to express his feelings about things such as revolutions and killings. The exuberant laughter hides the real pain and trauma of Yue's confusion at terrible human actions and also at the constantly changing world.
In the mid 2000s Yue began to experiment with different styles, and in 2006 he started his "Maze" series and within that a sub-series "Searching for Terrorist", our present work comes from this period. In the "Maze" series the most important theme is "searching'. According to Yue, we are always searching for things we cannot find, and invariably become more and more lost in a maze, unable to find an exit and ultimately confusion reigns. Painted in his favored, bright colors, and employing cartoonish images, the "Maze" pictures seem to exude warm, happy, everyday scenes. However, with Yue there is always a darker, more sinister undertone, that we are really lost, and engaging in absurd behavior.
"Maze 4" presents what at first seems like a happy, everyday, normal scene, a crowd of shoppers in a well-stocked supermarket. However, we soon notice the figures all have wild crazy grins. Animated and excited, they all seem to be having a good time going about their business. But they are also eyeless, and therefore are not aware of what is around them, in this case figures dressed as Arabs. As part of the "Searching for Terrorist" series the painting is mocking our inability to see, let alone find, what we should be looking for. Once again Yue is employing mockery to point our human fallibility.