Discover cynical realism in museums, the best contemporary Chinese art movement

It came as a surprise to me to discover cynical realism, an impressive Chinese contemporary art movement, that instantly became a favorite for me.

Cynical realism is a contemporary movement in Chinese art, especially in the form of painting, that began in the 1990s. Beginning in Beijing, it has become one of the most popular Chinese contemporary art movements in mainland China. It arose through the pursuit of individual expression by Chinese artists who broke away from the collective mindset that existed since the Cultural Revolution. The major themes tend to focus on socio-political issues and events since Revolutionary China (1911) to the present. These include having a usually humorous and post-ironic take on a realist perspective and interpretation of the transition that Chinese society has been through, from the advent of Communism to today’s industrialization and modernization.

Artists associated with Cynical Realism include Fang Lijun, Liu Wei, and Yue Minjun.

If you have a trip to Vancouver absolutely visit A-maze-ing Laughter

A-maze-ing Laughter is a collection of 14 enormous bronze statues depicting a shirtless guy laughing hysterically. It was installed in 2009 in Morton Park in Vancouver, Canada, as part of the Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale which exhibits international contemporary works in public spaces. It has since become a permanent part of Vancouver’s landscape, and is one of the city’s most beloved public art piece.

A-maze-ing Laughter was designed by Chinese artist Yue Minjun, a leading figure in the Chinese art movement called Cynical Realism, which began in the 1990’s as a response to the suppression of political and artistic expression in China. The figures, measuring three meters tall, portrays the artist’s own image in exaggerated size with massive full-toothed grins. An inscription carved into the cement seating states “May this sculpture inspire laughter playfulness and joy in all who experience it.”

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According to the agreement between the Biennale and Yue Minjun, the sculpture was supposed to stand until Dec. 31, 2011 after which it would be removed. But when the deadline approached, the city didn’t want it to go. The only way to keep the sculpture permanently at the location was to buy it at Minjun’s asking price of a whopping $5 million. The Biennale Foundation didn’t have the funds.

Seeing the response the statues generated, Yue Minjun dropped the price to $1.5 million in an effort to help Vancouver keep the work. The sculpture was later bought by Chip and Shannon Wilson through the Wilson5 Foundation and donated to the City of Vancouver, where it will continue to grace the Park and bring smiles to the thousands of people who visit the statue.

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