Yue Minjun is set to unveil a new solo exhibition titled “Smile at the Flower Sermon.” Housed at Tang Contemporary Art, in Hong Kong, the acclaimed Chinese artist presents his iconic Laughter series alongside a new suite of paintings that bloom with a floral twist.
Minjun was inspired to explore the symbolism of flowers back in 2020, when he was living in Chuncheng in the southwestern province of Yunnan. The flowers of the city provided the artist a refreshing counterpoint to the gloominess ushered in by the pandemic. Amongst the 20 new paintings, many of them either feature or replace his emblematic smiling faces with seductively deceptive flowers. Deceptive, in the sense that Minjun sees these elements as merely decorative, where there is an awareness that the truth of his subjects are hidden.
The flowers, he explains, are merely decorative, representing 'passive obstructions' from seeing individual truths beyond markers of status, gender, and personality through signifiers such as clothing.
In Hibiscus Moscheutos (2021), three female figures in Lilium(2021), it is white lilies concealing the faces of three figures in Renaissance-era clothing, as if adapted from an Old Master painting.
Such efforts speak to the unspoken pitfalls of modernist ambitions and political ideals, or even the rift between online activities and IRL truths, with performative acts and careful selections on social media concealing the messiness and the complexity of realities both large and small.
While reflecting an anxious optimism; of waiting for the 'blossoming' of a new chapter, Yue underlines their deceptive nature.
This tactic of consolidation—what can be perceived as a kind of masking—is a thread that runs throughout these recent paintings by Yue and those from a decade ago, with some of his grinning figures on view at Tang Contemporary Art.
With this new floral symbolism, Yue opens up this illusory field further, inviting audiences to consider what lies beneath the surface.
As a result, each composition presents the viewer with a mystery. What are the flowers actually concealing? What have we lost? Discover for yourself as “Smile at the Flower Sermon” goes on view at Tang Contemporary Art from March 24 to April 30.