They were uncertified and untrained. Denied official exhibition space, they first exhibited their works in September 1979 when they hung their art from the handrails outside of the China Art Gallery. The state did not initially intervene, assuming that the work... [more]
They were uncertified and untrained. Denied official exhibition space, they first exhibited their works in September 1979 when they hung their art from the handrails outside of the China Art Gallery. The state did not initially intervene, assuming that the work -- which deviated radically from traditional forms -- would be met with public disapproval. But when the artists were finally forced to take down their paintings and sculptures, the China Art Gallery, praising the spirit of the work, offered to house it. A year later, after a series of protests, the first official Stars exhibition appeared, and forty thousand people came to see it.
The Stars had no unified aesthetic aim; instead, they were drawn together by their rejection of state-imposed forms and by the ideal of artistic freedom. Whereas Mao insisted that art was inseparable from politics, that every work of art should have a politically constructive aim, the artists of the Stars group sought to exploit a new, subversive potential for art. Appropriating Western Modernist trends such as Fauvism, Cubism, Impressionism, Surrealism, dada, and Expressionism, they broke radically from every state-certified form of art taught in officially sanctioned schools. As opposed to the Utopian visions characteristic of Mao-inspired art, the Stars' works raised the voice of dissidence and cynicism, revealing the dark, oppressive undercurrents of the Cultural Revolution.
They did not do so explicitly -- that would have certainly led to their demise. Instead, they created works apparently divested of political content, experiments in abstraction and impressionism that betrayed no obvious subversive intent other than a formal rejection of state-imposed forms. But this formal rejection held within it a message far more deviant than its surface revealed. By means of abstraction these artists were fostering the dissolution of a state-sponsored reality, a reality as aesthetic as it was political. Upon the reality imposed by the Cultural Revolution, the Stars inflicted a series of subtle distortions, gesturing toward the possibility of a new form of life and of art.
By 1981, however, the group had already begun to dissolve. Most of its prominent figures -- Wang Keping, Li Shuang, Ma Desheng, Ai Weiwei, and Yan Li, among others -- had moved abroad. But their inspiration was not forgotten; it had opened new possibilities for art, and for society in general: the seeds of dissidence continued to spread throughout Chinese culture, culminating eventually in the brutal events of 1989. [show less]