“Yue Minjun and the Symbolic Smile,” at the Queens Museum of Art, is the first American museum exhibition of Yue’s work and further evidence of his remarkable rise in the super-heated field of Chinese contemporary art. The work at the Queens Museum ranges from a grouping of 20 life-size terracotta soldiers grinning cast bronze versions of the famous statues unearthed years ago at the tomb of China’s first emperor, to a painting of a laughing version of himself holding another aloft in front of the Statue of Liberty. A few years ago, Yue was eking out a precarious existence in one of Beijing’s artist colonies, trying to figure out a way to weave China’s tumultuous experience into his works. Now, largely on the strength of his signature grin, he has achieved stardom internationally. The mesmerizing enigma of that reddish face painted over and over again, with the wide laugh and the eyes tightly shut from the hilarious strain, is subject to a multitude of interpretations. The smile has been variously interpreted as a sort of joke at the absurdity of it all, or the illusion of happiness in lives inevitably heading toward extinction. “There were also paintings during the Cultural Revolution period, those Soviet-style posters showing happy people laughing,” Yue explained. “But what’s interesting is that normally what you see in those posters is the opposite of reality.” He said his smile was in a way a parody of those posters. But, since it’s a self-portrait, it’s also necessarily a parody of himself, he added. At the Queens Museum, there is also a series called “Hats,” in which Yue has painted himself in all sorts of headgear, from an American football helmet to a peaked cap of a soldier in China’s People’s Liberation Army, with that unvarying laugh on his face. Mr. Yue was born in 1962 in China’s far northern Heilongjiang Province and moved to Beijing with his parents as a child. He studied oil painting at the Hebei Normal University and graduated in 1989, when China was rocked by student-led demonstrations and their suppression on Tiananmen Square in June of that year.
From Oct/14/07-Jan/08/08 at the Queens Museum of Art