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Chinese avant-garde artist Yue Minjun unveils flower paintings created during pandemic

By Park Yuna

Published : Oct. 12, 2023 - 15:34

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“Tuberous Begonia” by Yue Minjun (Tang Contemporary Art) “Tuberous Begonia” by Yue Minjun (Tang Contemporary Art)

Chinese contemporary artist Yue Minjun recently unveiled in Seoul paintings he created during the pandemic that break away from his signature style. Starting in the 1990s, his paintings have earned him the titles "cynical realism painter" and "Chinese avant-garde artist."

Tang Contemporary Art in Seoul is showcasing 24 paintings for a solo exhibition by Yue featuring both older and more recent works. His more recent works consist of the flower series -- paintings depicting people with flowers or other plant life covering their faces.

Notable among the newer works is "Tuberous Begonia,” which shows a red flower blooming on a woman’s face. The woman is assumed to be Yue's wife, who rarely appears in the artist's paintings. The flower is reminiscent of face masks that people were forced to wear when COVID-19 spread rapidly around the world.

An installation view of An installation view of "Yue Minjun Solo Exhibition" at Tang Contemporary Art in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

“For the past 10 years, the artist focused on portraying flowers, death or a void. From then on, he discarded China’s avant-garde, which he represented. He liberated himself from its limitations, and evolved from ‘criticism and resistance’ to the wider and loftier dimension of ‘coexistence and symbiosis,” the gallery noted on the artist.

The exhibition includes Yue's iconic paintings such as "Enjoy Myself," a 3.8-meter high painting that was previously shown at the artist's first large-scale exhibition in Seoul in 2021 at the Seoul Arts Center.

Born in 1962, Yue is known for his large exaggerated self portraits, cynically laughing or smiling with his eyes shut. The Beijing-based artist is one of the “four giants” of Chinese contemporary art along with Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi and Fang Lijun.

An installation view of An installation view of "Yue Minjun Solo Exhibition" at Tang Contemporary Art in Seoul with an oil painting "Enjoy Myself" on the right (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Headquartered in Beijing, Tang Contemporary Art opened its Seoul operations in March 2022 as a growing number of international galleries began opening spaces in the city. The gallery represents several world-renowned Chinese artists including Yue, Ai Weiwei and Zhao Zhao. The gallery occupies a 640-square-meter space with a nearly 6-meter-high ceiling in an art cluster in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul.

The exhibition runs through Oct. 15.