Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Serious Laugh at the Fondation Cartier

The advertisements in the metro are defying every French passenger: a man decapitated, holding his head, laughing.
This is the invitation to see the latest exhibition at the Fondation Cartier,  a first in Europe, forty paintings from Yue Minjun for "L'Ombre du Fou Rire". The artist who lives in Beijing, stays discreet about his life and political views, his work speaks for itself.

Starting on a joyous note, the early works from the 1990's are showing a group of friends, on an outing near a river or visiting a landmark in the painting On the Rostrum of Tiananmen, 1992, laughing at the viewer in a pose fit for a photograph. The sky is blue with a few white puffs, however, fighter planes in the background are ominous in Artist with his Friends, 1991, and the artist's expression is closer to a rictus than a laugh.
The tone of the work defines itself during the following years, with a subtle mixture of humor and cynicism as the style of the artist matures. He chooses a cartoonish representation of himself set in surrealistic surroundings. The preferred colors include a sour pink for the face, a baby blue or a flat orange for the sky. Black is for the mouth, hairs and contrasts with the flawless white teeth and the red lips. The eyes are closed. The laugh resonates throughout the room, obsessional and defiant. The cloning of the artist to represent groups, crowds, produces uniformity, anonymity and depersonalisation.

In the basement, the works take an epic dimension. The artist interprets masterpieces of Western art and gives them a fresh look. The Execution of the Emperor Maximilien of Mexico by Manet becomes The Execution. In the tense scene, the only missing  items are ...the weapons. Instead, an empty space separates the executioners from their target, four times the artist, laughing. A copy of The Death of Marat from Jacques-Louis David without Marat creates an expectation. Who will be next in the bloody bath? The same theme inspires the copy of The Founding Ceremony of the Nation from Dong Xiwen, 1953, Mao is missing. The central character becomes secondary and the decor essential, a stage ready for the next actor (politician). History repeats itself. Still laughing, the painter represents The Massacre at ChiosFreedom Leading the People, very serious themes indeed and the contrast between the subject and the callous laugh is chilling.

In an adjacent room, a hundred sketches and drawings give an insight into the process of creativity and are a witness to the artist's research. More paintings with the artist borrowing the body of a dinosaur, birds flying, or locked in an impossible embrace with copies of himself.
But the work becomes repetitive and the laugh lasting too long, annoying.
What I will remember about the exhibition? A laugh of despair.

no photographs allowed
photograph of the admission ticket by the author

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