(Chinese, B. 1962)
Idols Series No. 3; & Idol Series No. 6
Idol Series No. 3: signed in Chinese; dated '1996' and titled 'No. 003' (on the reverse)
Idol Series No. 6: signed in Chinese; dated '1996' and titled 'No 006' (on the reverse)
two oil on canvas
each: 40 x 40 cm. (15 ? x 15 ? in.) (2)
Painted in 1996 (2)
Schoeni Art Gallery, Hong Kong, China
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Schoeni Art Gallery Ltd., 8+8-1: Selected Paintings By 15 Contemporary Artists, Hong Kong, China, 1997 (illustrated, pp. 52-53).
Hong Kong, China, Schoeni Art Gallery, 8+8-1: Selected Paintings by 15 Contemporary Artists, 1997-1998.

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Felix Yip
Felix Yip

Lot Essay

In the short span of three decades, from the 1970s to 1990s, modern China underwent a multitude of changes which evolved, generally speaking, in three successive phases: the late 1970s, when political conscience is, however embryonically, was liberated; the 1980s, a period of cultural enlightenment and subsequent extrication; and the 1990s, wherein society was consumed by economic and commercial globalization. Sweeping and rapid as these socio-economic changes have been, their nature is probably far less complicated and profound than the microscopic transformations that have subsequently occurred inside the minds of men. These convoluted, hidden mentalities, together with the existential reality their bearers inhabit, became the defining concern for an entire generation of artists, and in particular those born in the 1960s. Artists like Fang Lijun, Liu Wei, Yue Minjun, Yang Shaobin, and others, created, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a genre of art characterized by a "blithe and cynical" attitude which, through an ironic approach, captures the development of men and their society in contemporary life. Critics named such style "Cynical Realism."
"Cynical Realism", as the name suggests, is both cynical and realistic. A cynical living attitude might seem to be frivolous in nature, one that is casual, indifferent or even senseless, but it is in essence a highly sardonic and insightful mode of commentary on society's ills and injustices; realism, in another respect, refers to the artist's own understanding of "reality". Cynical Realism, then, is a satiric form of expression that prompts the audience to reflect on a "more real" state of "reality" without the illusions of any inherited conventions or ideologies.
Yue Minjun started painting portraits in the early 1990s, obviously with the intent to communicate what he observed and felt within his own circle, often already relying on the appearance of laughing, seemingly carefree faces, modeled from his friends and himself. In 1993, Yue began molding the same laughing face - clearly resembling his own - on his painted figures. In 1994 he recalled: "I want to find a new reality, an absolute reality that belongs to me and me alone." What he called an "absolute reality", as his remark made clear, concerns his own state of existence, which no one can possibly understand better than himself, and, as such, no artistic forms are in this regard more revealing than self-portraits.
As he advanced his artistic inquiries along these lines, using his repeated self-portrait in a variety of conceptually rich and visually engaging scenarios, his paintings increasingly displayed less easily discernible narrative contexts or settings. The set of oils titled 99 Idol Series, painted in 1996 for the seminal 10th Anniversary Exhibition of Schoeni Art Gallery of Hong Kong, also neatly illustrates Yue's core concepts. On 99 canvases, each 25 x 20 centimeters in size, the artist paints his own face with a jaw-breaking guffaw, his eyes tightly clenched. Most faces fill the canvas to the brim with an almost claustrophobic exuberance, allowing the audience to detect every minute detail of their rich, exultant expressions which, even though they belong to the artist alone, they are of such diversity that they seem more representative of the whole human race. Renouncing the depiction of the human body, the 99 Idol Series is the artist's first attempt to focus exclusively on facial expressions. That same year, Yue also began his Idol Series, a set of 20 oils exhibited in the historic "8+8-1, Selected Paintings by 15 Contemporary Artists", hosted in 1997 by the Schoeni Art Gallery of Hong Kong. Larger in size (40 x 40 centimeters each), the Idol Series works not only offer the faces but also the contorted bodily figures of men- an attempt to do away with self-portrayal as a means to locate the artist's and viewer's relationship to a conventional "portrait". The portraits of Yue have thus run through a passage of extremes, from that of a narrative-oriented discourse to a non-narrative expression. Devoid of storyline, the artists creates a space in which to transfigure human sentiment and gesture into his own artistic symbols, which, as a contorted representation of human figures, describe and reveal the absurdity of what we call reality.
"I think laughter is less detestable. My figures are chortling, guffawing, sneering, laughing convulsively and, perhaps, grinning at death or society. They seem to be doing all these at one and the same time and you can't label their laughter discretely. When one laughs one rejects thinking - that is, when one finds something unfathomable, or too difficult to look over, one wants to get rid of it." - Yue Minjun, 1994
Idol Series No. 3 and Idol Series No. 6 (Lot 2419) represented by a man with distorted bodily shapes and a stiffened laugh. While his laughter catches attention by itself, the artist's deliberate exaggeration of his laughter produces an effect antithetical to what it should signify: the more he laughs, the more desperate he seems; in Yue's words, the more he wants to be "less detestable" and attempts to conform to some unseen power, the more false and absurd he is, the more contemptible and finally corrupted. The ridiculous laughing face of Yue's self-portrait appear to mirror a way of living - a way of "survival", in fact, in a complicated society, which pressures him to put on an act as an idiot or a fool. Yue's philosophy resonates with the creed of Laozi, the patriarch of Taoism, who believed that "Tao follows the nature" and, from this premise, "the greatest art looks uncultivated". Yue's work also, therefore, vibrates with Su Shi's notion that "a man of the greatest wisdom looks witless", which stemmed from the Taoist doctrine. Sometimes men are forced to conceal their talents and feelings for the sake of survival, and Yue' s laughing face is exactly the specter of such concealment.

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