Staging his first solo public art exhibition in Hong Kong in a shopping mall is a challenge, but Yue Minjun finds it an easier way to establish a closer relationship with the public.
"Hong Kong's life evolves around shopping malls. Showing artworks at a mall means that they can get closer to the audience, and that can be more meaningful," Yue said.
The famed mainland artist, best known for his self-portraits depicting an absurd jaw-splitting grin, is in town for the opening of his exhibition, "The Tao of Laughter", at Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui. The show features five new 3.5 metre high sculptures of the smiley faces at the Ocean Terminal forecourt near the Star Ferry pier. Twelve silkscreen prints are on display at the mall's gallery.
"Showing them at a mall, which is full of commodities, is making the artworks have a dialogue with these commodities," he said. "The smiley faces are ironies, and they remind people that seeking spiritual health is important under such intense commercialisation," he added.
The exhibition runs until October 23, but Hong Kong will be the permanent home for some of Yue's works.
Two of them - La Liberte Guidant le Peuple, a 1995 painting playing on a piece of the same name by Eugène Delacroix, and 1997's Founding Ceremony - are among 1,463 works donated by Uli Sigg to the West Kowloon Cultural District's M+ museum. The museum also acquired 47 works from the Swiss collector.
"In past decades, no one gave us any support. Society did not care about us," Yue said.
He says keeping contemporary works of Chinese art on Chinese soil is not his major concern.
"The most important [thing] is whether the artworks get any respect. If they were in China, but they were not shown properly and there was no respect for the works, the art might be better off somewhere else."
Born in 1962 in Heilongjiang province, Yue graduated in oil painting studies at Hebei Normal University in 1989, the time of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, which he says had a profound impact on him.
The Beijing-based artist is one of the darlings of the auction world. In 2007, his 1995 painting Execution fetched US$5.9 million, a record at the time.
The Hurun Report on mainland wealth said his works reached accumulated sales of US$30.5 million in 2009.