Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s influence on the global art scene is unmistakable. His installation of the enormous Rubber Duck sculpture in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, captured the world’s attention. The snapshot, featuring a gargantuan rubber duck set against the urban landscape, with swaths of people either capturing the moment or simply appreciating its grandeur, epitomizes Hofman’s vision: art that resonates with everyone, transcending cultural boundaries. This philosophy echoes in his recent 2023 solo exhibition, “Celebrate Together!” held in Shanghai, China.
Hofman’s mission is simple: to inspire communication, evoke happiness, and share the sheer joy of life. This exhibition in Shanghai was especially tailored for the Chinese audience, as evidenced by his many artworks influenced by Chinese culture.
Previously, his works graced cities such as Shenzhen and Chengdu, making Hofman a familiar name among Chinese art enthusiasts. However, the Shanghai exhibition packed surprises. It unveiled 25 new art pieces, offering viewers not just a visual treat but also an interactive experience. Underpinning the exhibit was a celebratory theme, a nod to the resilience and optimism that has been pivotal post the COVID-19 pandemic.
Drawing inspiration from the Chinese zodiac, Hofman presented a Zodiac art series, which, while impressive on its own, is completed only when viewers chime in with their imaginations. This interactive series featured twelve enlarged zodiac sculptures, and attendees could add decorations using colorful clay.
Hofman’s open-hearted approach to art is evident. He embraces close interactions between viewers and his pieces and has a penchant for displaying his works in urban spaces rather than traditional galleries. He is thrilled when audiences become an integral part of his art. This sentiment is apparent in pieces like “Play Together,” a whimsical 20-meter-long cat and mouse installation composed entirely of balloons.
The Rubber Duck, often the centerpiece of Hofman’s exhibitions, is more than just an eye-catching figure. Hofman divulged that the duck’s vibrant yellow symbolizes “birth” and “youthfulness.” This gigantic installation, often juxtaposed against towering skyscrapers, serves to shrink the perceived distance between art and humans, while also challenging traditional notions of hierarchy in public spaces.
The artist’s Rubber Duck has been displayed in Hong Kong twice. Over the years, this artwork, set against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s evolving urban and social landscape, reinforced Hofman’s belief in art’s transformative power. It provoked profound reflections on themes like identity, the intersection of technology and reality, and societal values.
Hofman’s appeal in China is multifaceted. Collaborative projects with celebrities and brands, such as his “ostrich art” crossover with singer Chris Lee, and coffee brand collaborations have bolstered his reputation.
Animals are dominant in Hofman’s oeuvre, serving as metaphors and symbols. His “Birthday Tiger” celebrated 2022, the Year of the Tiger, with a grand installation made of 2 million balloons. Another work, the “Selfie Panda,” was displayed in Dujiangyan, near Chengdu, home to the giant panda.
Hofman’s immersion in Chinese culture is palpable. He dives deep into local traditions and the distinct vibe of Chinese cities. This rich cultural tapestry adds depth and context to his art. Beyond his famous “duck” tag, Hofman harnesses universal symbols like animals to communicate intricate ideas and evoke introspection in viewers.
His work in Amersfoort, a “pissing polar bear” statue, wittily addresses pressing environmental concerns and humanity’s imbalanced rapport with nature. Hofman encapsulates the delicate balance between expressing an idea and maintaining artistic nuance.