Yue Minjun, Born 1962, China
Contemporary Terracotta Warriors, 2005
Yue Minjun is widely known for his representations of manically laughing men. They pop up in virtually all of his paintings and sculptures. These figures are, in fact, representations of the artist himself, or of his alter ego,
His 25 identical bronze "Contemporary Terracotta Warriors" are dispersed around the Donum estate in groups and pairs. A reinterpretation of the legendary Terracotta Army, the collection of statues representing the armies of China's first emperor that were buried with him in the 2nd Century B.C, Yue's version represents a small company of laughing, bare-footed soldiers who hold clenched fists at the sides of their heads in a satirical salute. With their inexplicably jolly expressions, these figures are reminiscent of the Laughing Buddha, or of the smiling propaganda images produced by Chinese socialist realist artists during the Cultural Revolution.
"In my work, laughter is a representation of a state of helplessness, lack of strength and participation, absence of rights that society has imposed on us," he explains. "In short, life. It makes you feel obsolete, which is why, sometimes, you only have laughter as a revolutionary weapon to fight against cultural and human indifference."
"To laugh is an expression of pain," he adds. "When you've endured the maximum level of pain you can tolerate, all you could do is laugh. It could be about life, society, health, death."
Born in 1962 in Daqing City, China, Yue studied at Hebei Normal University in the 1980s, training as a painter, sculptor, and printmaker. Bearing witness to the restrictive regime, which led to the Tiananmen Square massacre of protestors, Yue began using his art to understand the societal changes taking place in China over the following decades. His work is in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Denver Art Museum and Shenzhen Art Musuem, among others.
Paradoxically, Yue is, in person, serious and thoughtful, not the laughing man that his artworks make him out to be. One of his most important works is the painting "Execution" (1995). Ostensibly inspired by the Tiananmen Square massacre, it shows a row of laughing men in briefs lined up against a red wall (the color of Tiananmen Gate) as a group of other men take aim at them with invisible rifles.