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220 x 200 cm
Oil on canvas

The Angelus
220 x 264 cm
Oil on canvas

220 x 334 cm
Oil on canvas

Yue Minjun

Yue Min Jun was born in 1962, in the town of Daqing in the province of Hei Long Jiang, China. In 1985, he graduated from the Hebei Normal University, China, majoring in oil painting. Yue Min Jun has held various solo exhibitions, including "Post Auratic Self Portrayal of Yue Min Jun" at the CP Artspace, Jakarta, Indonesia (2005); "Yue Min Jun: Sculptures and Paintings" at the Schoeni Art Gallery, Hong Kong (2004); "Yue Min Jun: Beijing Ironicals" at the Prüss & Ochs Gallery, Berlin, Germany (2003); "Yue Min Jun: Handling" at the One World Art Center, Beijing, China (2002); and "Red Ocean-Yue Min Jun" in London. England (2000).

History shows that when modernization is made indispensable, when the dreams about the change from rurality to urbanity are celebrated, tragedy ensues.

The work of the Chinese painter Yue Minjun in the CP Biennale 2005 is an expression about such tragedy. The work is a combination of the three paintings he made between 2003 and 2004; each titled Olympia, Bayonetting, and The Angelus. Only Bayonetting showed the characteristic signs of paintings by Yue Minjun. The other two are allegorical paintings showing no traits of Yue Minjun's oeuvre. Both paintings are incomplete copies of two works by 19th century painters, Edouard Manet and Jean Francois Millet.

The painting titled Bayonetting, like other paintings by Yue Minjun, is a sign of the loss of personal identity among the urbanites. The “I” in this painting is the de-substantialized “I” as the self can move easily from one realm of meaning to another.

Yue Minjun's face in the painting is other people's face, too. The meaning of the self in this painting is more closely related to the reflection when the self carries with it a group identity. The personal portrait in this painting is a portrait fragmented as the portrait of others' and the society's.

Without strong moral ties, the fragmented portrait brings a hidden terror with it. In this painting, Yue Minjun shows how “I” kills “I” with an illusory bayonet; how “others” laugh about “I” as the “I” kills “others”; and how “others” kill “another” by laughing.

In the process of change from rurality to urbanity, where a crash of civilization invariably takes place, the moral ties are loose, violence escalates, and various dilemmas of life come about. The socialistic artists in Europe had recorded the various changes in the 19th century Europe, following the industrial revolution. Their works were full of signs and stories about farmers dreaming about improving their status and economy by becoming workers, about beautiful village girls dreaming of a celebrity status by selling their bodies.

Yue Minjun's imagination took him to this era. He then discovered two works full of signs, and used them to record the signs of the day, similar to those depicted in the original works and arising one-and-a-half century later in another part of the world. Not in Europe.

Yue Minjun adapted Edouard Manet's 1863 painting, Olympia. The naked woman in the painting is Olympia, a famous whore whose beauty provided her with access to the French bourgeoisie. The flowers in the hands of the black slave next to the couch where she lay were flowers sent by an adoring client. The painting could not be exhibited at the time, as Manet was threatened by angry clients of the whore.

Manet depicted the dark side of life in Europe in the 19th century, where there were frictions between the morality of the decadent French bourgeoisie and the bitter reality of the poor. Social changes and poverty made the beautiful women of the poor decide to let their nakedness as a source of pleasure of the bourgeoisie.

Olympia is not present in Yue Minjun's painting. There are only traces of Olympia: an empty couch. It seems Yue Minjun is trying to say that in another time, another place, there will be other Olympias taking her place.

Another painting Yue Minjun has adapted is The Angelus by Jean Francois Millet, a painter who in the 19th century was known as betraying the tendency of the Barbizon naturalism. The tendency grew in England and took natural landscapes in the four seasons as its subject matter. Millet, who had studied in France, was the first painter using the elements of human beings in the Barbizon naturalism paintings, which generally depicted empty landscapes.

In 1849, Jean Francois Millet returned to Barbizon and started to develop the tendency. His paintings grew to portray the relationship between human beings and the nature. The Angelus is recognized as his best painting. The painting depicts a farmer-couple living in harmony with the nature. A peaceful life in the village with no influx of changes.

Yue Minjun's painting does not depict the farmer-couple. There are only traces of them. It seems Yue Minjun is saying that the couple has left their comfortable life in the village and moved to the city, living subsequently in the slums, entering the harsh life where people are ready to kill others in order to survive. Their daughters become whores. (Jim Supangkat)

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