A smile can say many things.
Artist Yue Minjun (at left) has been doing his sort of self-portrait/tongue-in-cheek portrayal of modern day China through his Post-Tiananmen Square filter for over a decade now.
You will see advertisements for his work continuously in ArtNews, Artforum, FlashArt International, etc..
In fact, I cannot think of an issue I've purchased in the past 12 months that has not featured a gallery or international fair highlighting his works.
Since the early 1990s, Minjun has had this smiling figure at the center of his work-- whether in his paintings or installation work.
Looking at the makeup of this particular group of multiples-- hands clasped tightly together with outstretched arms--I cannot help but think of the solitary figure standing up to the tank in the legendary photo from the student uprising.
Perhaps Minjun's commentary here is that there truly is "strength in numbers."
But upon closer look at his version of the Terra-Cotta Army, you can see subtle differences at play.
Are those hands clasped together in defiance, or celebration??
Perhaps they really are showcasing a newfound freedom in the undercurrents of the invasion of capitalism-- look closely at the denim jeans each "soldier" here is wearing.
After all, in a good stretch, "taking a breather," you can visualize yourself leaning back, arms outstretched, palms expanding and feeling a true sense of peace.
Of course, laughter can bely other elements beneath the surface-- the phrase, "Laughing all the way to the cleaners" comes to mind.
Minjun's work does not sell for peanuts, after all.
The societal implications of "cultural revolution" in 2007 are quite different for modern-day China and its contemporary artists, especially with the out-of-control market at hand.
These terra-cotta warriors will not be buried in hiding for a millenia with an emperor, but most likely held in vast art storage facilities as the $ value continues to expand.
Interesting take on history in the making.
The Minjun show is up through June 23rd at Max Protetch on 22nd Street.
All images courtesy of Max Protetch Gallery, Chelsea