Four years of “A-maze-ing Laughter”

© 2013 Denis Bouvier |

© 2013 Denis Bouvier |

Installed in Morton Park at English Bay for Vancouver’s 2009–2011 Biennale, these 14 bronze figures, entitled A-maze-ing Laughter, have become a permanent part of Vancouver’s landscape.

Vancouver’s Biennale situates museum-quality pieces of contemporary artwork in public spaces. They remain for two years and are then sold, the profits being used to cover the costs of the artwork for the next biennale. Because of A-maze-ing Laughter’s huge popularity, this exhibition will remain in Morton Park due in large part to the $1.5 million donation through the Chip and Sharon Wilson Foundation. Chip Wilson is the founder and chairman of Lululemon Athletica.

The creator of these figures is Chinese artist Yue Minjun, a leading figure in the Chinese art movement called Cynical Realism, which began in the 90’s. Cynical Realism is a response to the suppression of political and artistic expression in China. The figures are clones of Yue Minjun’s own image exaggerated in size with massive full-toothed grins. There are seven images each repeated twice creating the 14 bronze figures. To many art critics and some of the general populace, the effect is more bizarre than amusing. It’s felt that the figures express the artist’s own negative views on China’s suppressive policies and the difficulty of the huge social transformation for people caught up in China’s manic rush to economic success. The laughter expressed by the figures could be seen as an hysterical response.

Yet what’s really amazing is the general public’s reaction is typically one of joy. The figures demand attention and people can’t stop posing for pictures and climbing all over them. They have even animated the figures with knitted wear (surely for Pride Week), as shown in this photo taken on Saturday, July 27.

With the space at Morton Park having recently been renovated for better public access, we now have an inscription carved into one of the cement seating areas: “May this sculpture inspire laughter, playfulness and joy in all who experience it.” One wonders if all this positive attention would bring a genuine smile to the face of Yue Minjun.

Don Richardson