Arts This Is Not A Smile
posted by November 13 at 15:23 PMon
From a piece on the endlessly grinning artist Yue Minjun in today’s NYT:
Karen Smith, a Beijing expert on Chinese art, suggests that Mr. Yue’s grin is a mask for real feelings of helplessness.
“In China there’s a long history of the smile,” Mr. Yue said. “There is the Maitreya Buddha who can tell the future and whose facial expression is a laugh. Normally there’s an inscription saying that you should be optimistic and laugh in the face of reality.”
“There were also paintings during the Cultural Revolution period, those Soviet-style posters showing happy people laughing,” he continued. “But what’s interesting is that normally what you see in those posters is the opposite of reality.”
Mr. Yue 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.
“I’m not laughing at anybody else, because once you laugh at others, you’ll run into trouble, and can create obstacles,” he said.
“Obstacles” were especially dangerous in China in 1989, when Yue developed his style in the aftermath of the student uprising at Tiananmen Square.
Several of these famous smiles are found in a single piece at Seattle Asian Art Museum in the exhibition Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary Chinese Art through December 2:
Yue Minjun’s Garbage Dump (2005-2006)