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Contemporary masters from Taiwan, China, offer hope

Taiwanese artist Chen Chieh-jen and Chinese artist Yue Minjun offer reflection, hope through first large-scale solo shows in Korea.

"People Pushing” by Chen Chieh-jen (Art Sonje Center)

Frustration comes easily in challenging times -- especially amid a pandemic that continues on for more than a year, disrupting our lives and causing a global economic downturn.

The first major solo exhibitions of two influential contemporary artists -- Chen Chieh-jen of Taiwan and Yue Minjun of China -- offer comfort and help to relieve depressed feelings in their own ways, presenting either dismal atmospheres or ironic images.

Chen’s “Traumatized Body and Transformed Self,” which runs through May 2 at the Art Sonje Center in central Seoul, sheds light on contemporary reality, showcasing video art works and photographs. The seven artworks presented at the exhibition were produced at different periods of the artist’s career from the 1990s to the 2010s focusing on individuals suffering the seemingly insurmountable despair of being discarded and traumatized by societies in which wealth inequality continues to deepen. 

Some of Chen’s works seem appalling and gloomy, forcing viewers to see the darker side of the society that they tend to neglect -- particularly when struggling through difficult times in their own lives. The works, however, ironically provide a feeling of relief by making the viewer look directly at the reality of the worsening wealth gap. 

Yue Minjun is one of the leading contemporary artists in China, whose works are known for his trademark smile, raised from an abyss of pain and despair. The artist’s first large-scale solo exhibition in Korea, running at the Seoul Arts Center through May 9, showcases 40 pieces of the artist’s paintings and sculptures. The artist’s exaggerated self-image with his eyes closed and a big laugh has been used since the early 1990s and continues to be seen in his recent works. 

Installation view of “Yue Minjun A-Maze-Ing Laughter of Our Times!” (XCI)
Installation view of “Yue Minjun A-Maze-Ing Laughter of Our Times!” (XCI)

"All the characters in my works are silly. They are all laughing but forced restriction and futility are hidden in their laughter. I express these individuals who are controlled by someone, but remain happy without thought. There are portraits of myself, of my friends and sad portrayals of this era,” the artist once said regarding his trademark smile.

Born in 1962, the artist is at the frontier of Chinese avant-garde representing cynical realism through his works. He is considered one of the “four giants” of Chinese contemporary artists along with Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi and Fang Lijun.

“The images of laughing also delivers a message amid the pandemic that we can laugh off difficult times with hope,” said XCI art director NOMA, who curated the exhibition.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)

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