Yue Minjun (岳敏君), whose paintings routinely sell for record-breaking prices, is generating buzz among collectors yet again.
But this time the hype doesn’t center around one of the Chinese artist’s multi-million US dollar price tags, but a 30cm resin toy that costs less than, say, a Louis Vuitton duffle bag.
The Kaws X Yue Minjun figure was created by Yue in collaboration with American artist and urban vinyl designer Kaws for Art for the Masses, an exhibit at the MOT Arts (概念館) in Taipei that also features toys by four other leading artists from China.
The five toys were produced in limited runs of 100 each, for sale exclusively in sets of five that cost US$10,000 (about NT$303,600) per box.
The exhibit, which ends on Sunday, seeks to make fine art more accessible and enjoyable for the public, says Imin Pao (包益民), the founder of PPGROUP, which produced Art for the Masses in collaboration with MOT Arts.
“Warhol took Campbell Soup, Marilyn Monroe and Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and turned them into Pop Art. It should also go the other way around,” says Pao.
On a more pragmatic note, PPGROUP and their Shanghai consultant, Bin Bin (彬彬) also figured they would have a better chance arousing the curiosity of the artists in the show, who represent the elite of the contemporary art scene in China, if they pitched an idea that was both novel and fun.
PPGROUP worked closely with four of the five artists, Zhou Tiehai (周鐵海), Liu Ye (劉野) Jin Nu (金釹) and Zhou Chunya (周春芽), to create toys based on their existing work.
Yue, on the other hand, wanted to create an original figure from scratch. Kaws, who already has a cult following among designer toy lovers, was brought on board, and the result is an amalgamation of their creative signatures. The toy’s face and Cheshire Cat grin are reminiscent of Yue’s enigmatic self-portraits, while its stance and outfit, a send-up of Mickey Mouse’s breeches, ears and gloves, are based on Kaws’ Companion figures.
Though Yue’s figure has been generating the most excitement among designer toy collectors because of his collaboration with Kaws, the other four figures, which are made from resin, plastic and porcelain, are no less notable.
Zhou Tehai’s figure is based on his Placebo series of paintings, in which his subject’s heads are replaced with the smug visage of Joe Camel, the erstwhile cigarette mascot. Liu Ye’s pure-white porcelain maiden stands demurely with a riding crop gripped tightly in her delicate hands. Up-and-coming young artist Jin Nu’s wannabe mermaid painstakingly sews a shark’s tail over her legs. Bright green velvety flocking covers the surface of Zhou Chunya’s dog, an attempt to capture the artist’s sweeping brush strokes in three-dimensional form.
The extremely limited run of the toys — the 50 sets made available to collectors in Taiwan sold out at MOT Arts within a week — and their very grown-up price tag hardly seems “for the masses.” But recreating the artists’ work in an easily duplicated form using inexpensive materials gives people who don’t have US$5.9 million (the price of Yue’s Execution, which last year set a record for the most expensive piece by a contemporary Chinese artist) a chance to own art by some of the world’s top living artists.
Pao estimates that a little more than half of the 50 sets sold through MOT Arts were to seasoned fine-art collectors, while urban vinyl connoisseurs and other first-time art buyers purchased the rest. PPGROUP expects to make the other 50 sets available at venues and galleries in cities around the world, including Paris, New York City, Shanghai and Tokyo.