WANG KEPING and the Stars Group

Wang Keping is arguably one of China’s finest and most recognized sculptors in wood and a founding member of the Star group of artists, which is celebrating 30 years since its formation in 1979.

The Stars’ is celebrating the breakout exhibition, which took place on the park railings outside the China Art Gallery in Beijing, after being refused permission to stage it inside the gallery.

The Stars’ audacity at challenging the Communist Party’s authority and marching for democracy and artistic freedom, just a few years after the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, paved the way for other artists to at last express themselves and be recognised as individuals in their own right after the long years of the Cultural Revolution, when any attempt at freedom of expression was ruthlessly suppressed.

The group believed that all Chinese should have the right to free thought and expression at a time when society did not allow such things.

Not surprisingly, the Stars’ artists rejected socialist orthodoxy’s realist style and propaganda art and instead its artistic endeavours were centred on following in the footsteps of the western art styles such as the Post-Impressionists and the Surrealists.

Not all, but some of the Stars’ work was political. One of Wang Keping’s striking wooden sculptures, entitled Idol, created after the death of Mao Zedong, showed Mao’s head as Buddha like, which shocked the official art elite in Beijing.

Over time much of the Stars’ works were seen as criticism of the communist regime and eventually in 1983, after much political pressure, the Stars’ disbanded voluntarily and most of the members left China.

Among the founding members of the Star Group who left China was Wang Keping who moved to Paris in 1984 where he continues to live and produce less controversial sculptures for the western art market.

Without the success of the Star Group of artists it is unlikely that years later after the group disbanded that the Avant-Garde Chinese contemporary artists would be showing their works all over the world and being acclaimed and collected by private investors and the world’s art galleries and museums.