It's contemporary Chinese art's most indelible image—the smile so huge it becomes false, accusatory—and it belongs to Yue Minjun, the artist who uses the grinning self-portraits, often many of them, in his paintings. The New York Times chats with Yue, who is enjoying his first US show in New York after one of his paintings sold for $5.9 million last month at an auction at Sotheby’s in London.
Yue was in art school when Tiananmen Square erupted in 1989, and he felt he had to recreate himself as an artist. “The first step,” he tells the Times, “was to create a style to express my feelings accurately, starting with something that I knew really well—myself.” The smile has a long history in China, he notes, including the false happiness of posters during the Cultural Revolution. “A smile doesn’t necessarily mean happiness.”