2013 Yue Minjun: Idol Manufacturing - Macau Art Museum Solo Exhibition

Concerning Yue Min Jun’s ‘Neo-idolatry’

Feng Bo Yi



Yue Min Jun is one of the most representational artists in contemporary Chinese art. His works are mainly known for a laughing bald-headed ‘idol. These idols are gorgeously colourful and grosteque, with some even bloody. Though it is a kind of shameless laugh, it contains the pleasure and humour of breaking taboos. Yue’s artistic creation is an exaggerated narrative, indulged imagination and continuous experiment. It highlights the essentials of existence via absurdity.

It could be shown that Yue’s objective is to offer the major visual image in the scene the most gigantic effect regarding form and content, with clear and fruitful symbolism and metaphors. Consequently, visual images get into a realistic layer that can be signified from an unrealistic layer so that Yue is able to express his deep concern about actual social livelihood. Thus, Yue is creating an ‘idol’with features of Chinese history and Zeitgeist rather than imitating his own consistent facial expression.

Because of Yue’s special way of creating, offering special attention to the meaning and value of his works becomes natural. In fact, for an artist who does not wish to hide or conceal, the normal view and conversation can perhaps be more vivid and harmonious. Examining Yue’s works one by one, it always appears that some of the terms are particularly noteworthy. Perhaps this is the key to interpreting and analysing Yue’s art.



Yue always directly expresses absurd content in an absurd way, depicting a tattered world via a tattered art form. He displays a mingled cultural ecosystem with so-called ugly image expressions,

And this kind of absurd way of creating originates in the paradox and conflict between rational principle and objectively reality. Yue’s creative consciousness is inspired by the irreconcilability of living experience, memory and circumstance, revealing the fabrication and deceptiveness of the rapid change in reality in china or even the absurd living landscape; meanwhile, the metaphor of the mindset that ‘existence is absurdity ’ is made. While we are soaked in each seemingly absurd scene, and while the viewer converses with each work of irony, exaggeration, satire and ridicule, we can feel a certain lively eccentricity in human nature, paradox in existence, and the query raised by the artistic subject.


It seems that he is stressing the formalist interest in visual images; that is, the conversion of raffish self-idolatry to pure form, and is displaying this kind of formalist feeling in a dizzying way. Even though these images consist of exaggerated, virtual and perverse treatment, they display the absurdity of life in absurd circumstances. Absurdity and freedom co-exist. What is released from absurdity is another appeal to freedom and liberation deep in the human soul. Underneath absurdity it revealed Yue’s mockery and resistance to unreasonable existence in reality.



Irony is the attempt to express an attitude of criticising and ridiculing various statuses of absurdity, and to restrictively mingle signs, images and landscapes which are generally confrontational, disharmonious or even conflicting. This is exactly the objective of Yue’s irony-that is, to transform and exaggerate the heroic imagery, political and historical patterns established by the authorities through imitation and exaggerative treatment, in order to express satire regarding the ideology behind these images and to disclose the absurdity of both the maker and receiver of eccentricity. This is the ‘ironic’ feature that stands out in Yue’s pictorial language, the organic construction of his ‘Neo-Idolatry’.



Adopting post-modernism techniques, Yue appropriates and parodies classic paintings from China and foreign countries. This is a ‘distortion’ of classical concepts, symbols or famous pictorial texts in Chinese and the foreign history of art and photography. The ‘cosmetic surgery’ he performs on classic works usually extends to copying, duplication and transplantation, mingling self and the other, poetic sentiment in history and dilemma in reality- this is a kind of ‘doctoring’ beyond words. The key is that he detached himself from the image and character at the heart of the scene with the obvious intention of removing the mystique from it. Since people’s aesthetic taste is basically stereotyped, Yue’s parody familiarises certain modes in order to control viewers’ expectations, enabling viewers to perceive the amazement generated by a new perspective and the freedom of breaking away from classical regulations.


Furthermore, this type of parody attempts to eliminate the interpretative model regarding the oppositional relationship between superficiality and depth, reality and unreality, signifier and signified and does not provide the deep value in modernist or pre-modern classical works, or generates ‘depth’ on the surface. The disappearance of depth implies that the traditional mindset of investigating depth is deconstructed, and a new visual tension is produced. The objective of this attempt is to provide a diverse concept to recognise not only history and the classics but real society, too. It also treats the classics within the classics and uses the energy remaining in the classics to ruin their control so as to change the direction of classic works of the past.


By disclosing the limitation of an accepted visual model in order to challenge the authority of a single narrative, Yue’s works not only tell that the standards set by these so-called well-known classic works are temporarily and unreliable but also enable viewers to understand the pleasure of breaking taboos of profanity, amusement, absurdity and humour, and their encounter with laughter even more thought-provoking.



 Yue mixed his experience about the transformation of Chinese cities accumulated in this drift with his imagination, showing his ability to cross various boundaries freely. Virtual reality passes through the real-virtual binary opposition through maze, so that a mingled relationship appears between time and space and between human and objects. The lifelike playful [art] form is colourfully illusive and addictive. This indicates that his creation surpasses the pursuit towards ‘realism’ and stresses one of the functions of ‘uncertainty’ in a new context, an unmanageable infinite change. For Yue, this kind of ‘uncertainty’ is not simply a form; it is a concrete but incremental life experience. The dizzying complexity shows the deconstruction of ‘certainty’.


The works is divided into two parts: ‘past’ and ‘present’. The tracks of the ‘past’ can usually be traced, since one’s experience in the ‘past’ are usually determined. Their development is usually associated with the changing process of China. However, the ‘present’ is full of playfulness because one’s fate at ‘present’ is uncertain. It almost randomly shifts people’s identities throughout various time and spaces. Their roles are constantly changing and their vestige of change cannot be found. Every kind of these bizarre wonder ‘drifted here’ stresses the power of capital, information and personnel, which construct a kind of constant flow of desire. It seems to be a maze, and is a metaphor of formless and infinite power which is living.



Yue’s major art language is pop. He adopts resources like Chinese socialist propaganda paintings as well as Chinese and foreign consumer ads. In his earlier works, many backgrounds comprise symbols such as Tiananmen Square, red flags, the sun, slogans, red lanterns, red balloons and military caps, symbolising the historical tracks of a beautified life, optimistic and encouraging promotion by authority. Meanwhile, he intentionally mixes and displaces these symbols with the visual characteristics of desire for consumption in the post-90s Chinese market economy.


The image of simple, gorgeous, superficial and direct advertising and dizzying colours have become a highlight of Yue’s works. Following the Chinese economic reform over some three decades, now China is developing lifestyles in the ultimate absence of ideology. With cultural tradition voided and political passion and sensitivity cooling, Chinese real lifestyles are relatively Westernised but they have no spiritual sustenance and reliance. The pursuit of materialistic and entertaining elements occupy all of their daily life. From the late 90s to recent years, aesthetic, leisure images like scenery, gardens, flowers, birds, animals-even the sky and universe-appear in some of Yue’s works. They usually serve as the synecdoche of beautiful things and states of mind. Yue’s works contain not only the experience and memory of individual development but the aesthetic interest and transformation of the age, constructing the tracks of life regarding the changes in Chinese society.


Examined from this perspective, Yue’s works precisely suit and correspond to modern society and the essential characteristics of the rush for modernised development. In other words, his works are measuring or emphasising the actual change in Chinese society during the process of transition. Expressing the theatrical gesture and ambiguous state of mind of false pretence influenced by commercial culture in an exaggerated and humorous way, the works serve as an attempt to treat the fashionable and virtual life arising in contemporary consumer society by typifying and popularising so as to depict the lively and absurd circumstances of material idolatry in this age.



Yue’s works are always displayed with multiple permutations of images of bright and fresh shapes of head, exaggerated limbs, large laughing mouth, and refined, delicate teeth. These images form the consistent characteristics of symbols in Yue’s art. The conceptual background derives from one of the characteristics of modernised industrial civilisation. Modernised industry is typified by the assembly line; modern high-rise architecture, goods and mass media are standardised and multiplied products, which stress standardisation, repetitiveness and reproducibility.


Hence, impersonal facial makeup and masks are the essential features of modern social life, also the boundaries between classical and modern emotions. Our real life order is also neatly schemed. Every existence of life is a kind of mechanical duplication. It seems like the social roles they perform are condensed into a certain format. These kinds of standardised and multiple limitation are converted or even distorted and interfered with in Yue’s works in order to make us think out of the box of orderly conventional rules.



‘Treatment’ implies the change of the treated object. Yue’s treatments are in two ways, one of which is to copy these images by ‘blenching’, and to cover the original image with brush strokes of ‘rude, aimless rotation’ [Yue’s quote, please refer to ‘Treatment-Another Track of Mine’] before it dries. The other is to attach two works with wet grease paint and make a 360-degree rotation. Visual distancing and blurry effect characterise the treated new work. The viewer must catch a glimpse of the ‘truth’ of the original by detouring Yue’s twisted drawing tracks. These are the measures and strategies he adopts to strengthen the ‘treatment’ with experimental destruction. The so-called ‘objectively original picture’ is a pictorial or photographic creation in a particular historical period attached to the cultural features and ideology of that stage. Images are only symbols within them. Thus, Yue is cleansing his memory and experience of the past rather than treating images. This kind of memory and experience is not private but almost generally shared. And Yue’s measure and investigation of memory and experience starts from cleansing, leading to the overthrow and deconstruction of original creative consciousness and narrative methods through the ‘treat-treated’ relationship; perhaps this is a new attempt at ‘new drawing’ or ‘anti-drawing’.


There is not a way, not even a magnificent and monumental historical book, which enables the reminiscent to represent life in the past. There is no kind of news, not even that reported by various Chinese and foreign media, which can comprehensively and objectively record historical truth. But a picture or a photo is always more capable of presenting the inner world and status of human in a certain historical stage and reality because visual images are always more lively when they are placed on the boundary of characters and language. After a period of examination, the concealed reality and change in age or even ideology would, strikingly, manifest themselves voluntarily.


Perhaps for Yue, our ability to create a suitable mode to accommodate complicated human experience is extremely weak, thus people have to constantly change their perspective, investigate new metaphors and create new forms in order to resist modes or confusion, so that the other memories and narratives of real life that have long been suppressed by tradition and politics could somehow be liberated and expressed.


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