Chinese artist Yue Minjun brings a new meaning to ‘LOL’ in his new show L’ombre du fou rire (the shadow of laughter) at the Fondation Cartier, Paris. There is a lot of chuckling going on in this show, but it’s not funny ‘ha ha’, it’s definitely funny ‘strange’. At first glance his canvases celebrate sickly-sweet happiness with their candyfloss pink, paired up with clear blue skies. Yet, after spending more than a few minutes in the company of these grinning faces, we realised that Yue Minjun’s laughter is a lot darker. It’s more of the mocking, degrading, sinister type – think The Joker in Batman or the ridiculously, nervous and freaky giggling of Nathalie Portman at the Golden Globes - ok her laugh has obviously been tampered with here, but you get our point. His most disturbing works are when the subjects of the paintings are laughing at something they really, really shouldn’t be laughing at, like a mass execution for example.

Yue Minjun led China’s “Cynical Realism” art movement of the 1990s, a reaction to the mass helplessness felt in a time of dramatic political upheaval. His paintings represent the way China’s people were “grinning and bearing it” in order to stay out of trouble and to mask their true feelings. Chinese landmarks are used as a backdrop for luxury cars, planes and um, human-dinosaur hybrids (well, why not?).

When Yue Minjun (born in 1962) started his artistic career, the only access he had to art outside the Chinese establishment was through ‘China Fine Art Newspaper’ the only magazine of its type in China, which was also edited by the Chinese government. He studied at the interestingly-named ‘Normal University’ in the Heibi Province where he wrote a paper on “Film close-ups in painting”, which makes sense as many of his works look like close-ups from trippy psychedelic movies – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas springs to mind. In his first paintings Yue Minjun used his friends as models, but later repeated his own self-portrait. The artist himself was in the gallery when we arrived for the exhibition preview and his calm, professional manner was a hundred miles away from the gurning, maniac he depicts himself as in his paintings. A great show, but no laughing matter.

Yue Minjun – L’ombre du fou rire is on at the Fondation Cartier until 17 March, 2013. For more information [click here]

261 Boulevard Raspail 75014 Paris, Métro: Raspail, line 6

Open every day, except Monday, from 11- 8
Open Tuesday evenings until 10pm
Free Admission for visitors under 18 on Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Entrance 9.50 Euros full price  / 6.50 Euros reduced rate 

Words by Lindsey Marsh & photos courtesy of the Fondation Cartier.

Yue Minjun, Mao Xinglan, 2007. Acrylic on canvas. Collection Faurschou Foundation, Copenhagen and Beijing © Yue Minjun

Yue Minjun, The Sun, 2000 Acrylic on canvas. Private Collection © Yue Minjun

Yue Minjun, AD 3009, 2008 Oil on canvas. Collection of the artist, Beijing © Yue Minjun

Yue Minjun, Untitled, 1998 Oil on canvas. Private collection © Yue Minjun

Yue Minjun, Water, 1998 Oil on canvas. Private collection, London © Yue Minjun

Yue Minjun, Sky, 1997 Oil on canvas. Private Collection, Europe © Yue Minjun