Yue Minjun: L’Ombre du fou rire

Stories and works from the cynical realist's fascinating career

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Following a major retrospective last year at Fondation Cartier, a monograph of Chinese artist Yue Minjun‘s work is now available through Thames & Hudson. The visually arresting compendium follows the painter’s process from start to finish—including photographic self-portratis, sketches and final pieces. In addition to the visuals, a substantial portion of the publication has been dedicated to introducing and defining the context of Yue’s work.


“Laughter in Yue Minjun’s works violently shatters the conventionally accepted symmetry that establishes a dichotomy between laughter and tears, between ‘happy face’ and ‘sad face,'” writes François Jullien in the book’s introduction. Jullien explores Yue’s tendency to explore derision and hysteria as sociological states, and uses his experience as philosopher and sinologist to make a case for the oversized smile as a sort of wall that obscures notions of self. The perennial subject, Yue nevertheless remains a mystery.

An interview with Yue provides insight into his early years emerging in the Chinese arts scene. After attending university on the dime of an oil company, Yue feigned illness with the help of a doctor in order to avoid working for the company: “I told [the doctor]: ‘I have no other solution. Make up the disease for me, hospitalize me and when the directors come to see me, it will seem real.’ She came up with cholecystitis and myocarditis and put me in the hospital on a drip. After a long week, one of the directors finally came to see me and he immediately saw that my illness was a sham! I was fired. And that’s how I was able to go to Beijing,” he relates.


Finishing the text portion of the book is “Confessions of Laughter” by Ouyang Jianghe. Exploring the concept though a poetic series, Ouyang hones in on Yue’s central theme. Yue also weighs in on the advantages of laughter in the book, saying, “With some people, it’s useless to glare at them with looks of hatred—what you have to use is laughter.”

“Yue Minjun: L’ombre du fou rire” is available on Amazon and through W.W. Norton. See more images of the book in our slideshow.

Images of the book by James Thorne