Tang Contemporary Art is honored to present "Smile at the Flower Sermon“, a solo exhibition featuring works by the contemporary Chinese artist, Yue Minjun, at Hong Kong gallery space on March 24, 2022. The exhibition presents Yue Minjun's iconic Laughter series and featured the new Flowerseries since the pandemic, with about 20 splendid works. This exhibition represents a remarkable return of Yue Minjun after a 10-year hiatus and is also his first collaboration with Tang Contemporary Art.
Yue Minjun is one of the most renowned contemporary Chinese artists. He came to prominence in Chinese contemporary art with a series of paintings, which features an exaggerated and iconic smiley face presenting a “self-image.” This series made him a legend of his generation and earned him international acclaim. Hopes rose and fell after the winds of freedom began blowing in a specific historical moment in China, and Yue Minjun’s works have reflected the experiences of people living amidst the unprecedented changes in Chinese society since the 1990s. Small glimpses into grand historical events appear vividly on the canvases as cheeky grins or allegorical laughter. Yue’s ability to handle heavy subjects with grace is readily apparent. The intense visual impact of his smiling figures distinctly conveys Yue’s questioning attitude. Change is the only constant, and this series began with paintings of symbols from Chinese socialist propaganda paintings and pieces that satirically appropriated classic works of art, then shifted toward unchecked aesthetic imagery before transitioning to the dreamy scenes shown in this exhibition. Behind the smiles and laughter, all of these paintings reflect Yue’s close observations of his own experiences.
Yue Minjun has said, “Instead of Western Surrealism, these daydreams come from the Eastern concept of sitting in meditation. The illusory world perceived in the process of meditation develops without explanation.” These kinds of daydreams appear in Stranded, Stay Away, Light Blue, and other new paintings from this Laughter series. Perceptual imagination moves through the images, and introverted self-examination seems like a valid way to escape reality. The advent of the pandemic changed the pace of life around the world and influenced the ways people think. Isolation, division, and cultural conflict fractured existing systems of meaning. Escape is an instinctive human reaction; the pervasive dilemmas and wordless resistance in the paintings point to Yue’s worries
about the future of humanity.
In 2020, Yue Minjun lived for several months in Chuncheng in the southwestern province of Yunnan. Perhaps the flowers that abound in this city burst through the seams in the pandemic gloom, inspiring him. As a result, he made an important breakthrough and created his Flowers series. Flowers are symbols of beauty that could be likened to a plant’s smiling face. Here, exquisite flowers replace the smiling faces of the past and seductively bloom in front of figures’ faces, but this beauty is merely decorative in Yue’s mind. Due to dissatisfaction with the ubiquity of superficial opinions and an awareness that the truth is hidden, viewers cannot help but want to catch a glimpse of the mysterious expressions and emotions of the people behind the flowers. If his smiling self- portraits were active choices, then his Flowers paintings are passive obstructions. The context and pictorial significance of the figures whose facial features are concealed by flowers are supplemented by their clothing, forms, and gestures. As a result, the status, gender, and personality of the figures in the painting give way to the needs of society as a whole. What are the flowers actually concealing? What have we lost? We cannot find clear answers in the signifier of the flowers.
In Hibiscus Moscheutos, the three women wearing swimsuits and fashionable short haircuts are classic figures from Chinese calendars in the 1980s and 1990s. Geranium, Camillia, and Other Ten Flowers draw on a picture taken at a gathering of former classmates. The paintings in his Flowers series all have a freshness to them. Yue’s bold use of color and intuition for the textures of past and present tastes and subjects reflect his ability to wield popular culture and trends. After many years, Yue Minjun’s aesthetic ideals and deep concern for our present reality have been internalized in Flowers. The series has become a secret code for our times because of his keen sensitivity and his courageous willingness to break free of the traps of youth and self-transformation.
In Five Lamps Merged in the Source (Wudeng huiyuan), the monk Pu Ji recorded the story of the Smile at the Flower Sermon, in which Sakyamuni held up a flower and Mahakasyapa smiled. Countless people have sought to find meaning in this scene: Why did Mahakasyapa smile? How did Mahakasyapa attain enlightenment? In this place of sweeping enlightenment, Yue Minjun has also come to realize that the rich symbolism and metaphor inherent in painted smiles and flowers will always be relevant. Perhaps, in the turmoil of the world today, it can show us the way to deliver the universe through all difficulties.
Yue Minjun Fist Flower Oil on Canvas 170 × 140 cm 2020
Yue Minjun Summer Garden Oil on Canvas 250 × 200 cm 2019
Yue Minjun Picasso Series - 1 Oil on Canvas 90 × 70 cm 2021
Yue Minjun Picasso Series - 2 Oil on Canvas 90 × 70 cm 2021
Yue Minjun Picasso Series - 3 Oil on Canvas 101 × 75 cm 2021
Yue Minjun Stay Away Acrylic on canvas 250 x 180 cm 2021
Yue Minjun Stranded Oil on Canvas 150 × 180 cm 2021
Yue Minjun Light Blue Oil on Canvas 50 × 40 cm 2021
Yue Minjun Away from Light Oil on Canvas 60 × 50 cm 2020
Yue Minjun Stamen or Pistil Oil on Canvas 120 × 100 cm 2020
Yue Minjun Rose Oil on Canvas 150 × 120 cm 2020
Yue Minjun Hollyhock and Pure Daisies Oil on Canvas 100 × 120 cm 2020
Yue Minjun Hibiscus Schizopetalus Oil on Canvas 70 × 90 cm 2021
Yue Minjun Hibiscus Moscheutos Oil on Canvas 200 x 250 cm 2021
Yue Minjun Lilium Oil on Canvas 200 × 250 cm 2021
b. 1962, Daqing, Heilongjiang Province, China
Yue Minjun is one of the leading figures of Chinese contemporary art and internationally renowned artists. He currently lives and works in Beijing, China. Yue Minjun had been creating this exaggerated “Self-image” since the beginning of the 1990s. And in recent years, this image has been used in the field of sculpture and printmaking. Sometimes “it” appears independently, or collectively. “It” closes its eyes and laughs grinningly; with dramatic gestures and confidence.