Yue Minjun's work questions assumptions about generally accepted reality -- personal, art historical or political -- by parodying and exaggerating everything he reproduces. His paintings operate on the postulation that the viewer recognises the subject -- we see the artists trade-mark self depiction with an over strung smile, or famous scenes from art historys most iconic paintings -- but any image is exaggerated to levels of the grotesque, irrevocably issuing a critique.
His paintings have been classified as Cynical Realist works and as answer to the history of the Tiananmen Square massacre and its aftermath. Characteristically, they feature images of the artist laughing uncontrollably and unaware. The humorous grimace, in its repetition and mindless characteristics, transforms Yue's works into something absurd. Yet, it is not absurdity born out of coincidence, but a choice by the author, where the absurd has dictated a large part of his life. Yue is known to have said that, after 1989, to laugh seemed the only possible reaction, the only available escape from the absurd reality, with which the Chinese people were confronted at the time. The absurdity of the hysterical laugh is also what continues to make his works contemporary in a sociopolitical context: the self-portrait has become standardised, making its repetition a direct comment on propaganda and advertisement in contemporary Chinese society.
All the above elements repeat themselves in City No. 1, where the viewer is confronted with Yue's familiar smile, which transforms the painting into something beyond a work of art: it becomes a trade-mark Yue Minjun branded object, like a luxury commodity. The latter attribute cynically comments on the state of contemporary reality. City No. 1 evokes an idea of a human collective, a city. And yet, two figures smile at us from what appears to be a sewer opening: from beneath the city, from a place outside of society, where they remain outsiders, humorous commentators and cynical bystanders all the same.