Vancouver, BC, Canada – Sometimes public art can really bring a community together. A-maze-ing Laughter, a collection of 14 larger-than-life bronze self-portraits by the Chinese artist Yue Minjun, exists in a state of overwhelming amusement in Morton Park at English Bay in Vancouver. Some of the figures playfully make faces while others are doubled over by their laughter. This work was originally a part of the 2009-2011 Vancouver Biennale, exhibited as a temporary piece in Morton Park. People immediately connected to the playfulness of these figures and their popularity quickly grew. Before long they became a big Vancouver attraction.
As the scheduled time approached to remove Minjun’s figures the community rallied together to figure out a way to keep them. Chip and Shannon Wilson generously contributed $1.5 million and secured a permanent home in Vancouver. In a big celebration in August 2012, the city of Vancouver celebrated the Wilson’s generous gift with A Day of Laughter.
Although Minjun’s figures are beloved for the joy that they bring to the residents and visitors of Vancouver, it is funny to note Minjun’s association with the art movement “cynical realism,” a trend more apparent in his paintings. While the figures are laughing, the exaggeration of their smiles could be deemed painful or insincere. However, as with all art, once it hits the public it is out of the artist’s hands. Sometimes public art can cause heated debate, and sometimes, on the other hand, it can cause immense, exaggerated joy. Until the work gets out there, no one ever really knows what the public will perceive.