Society & Politics

Art Review: The Stars Exhibition in Art Basel

This year, the 10th Chancery Lane Gallery especially displayed early artworks of a trio of avant-garde artists to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a historically important art event, which challenged official aesthetics and called for free artistic expression in the Post-Mao Era.

A few days before the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the People's Republic of China, 23 artists of The Stars Art Group wrote a manifesto for The Stars Exhibition in 1979.

Wandering at the colourful Art Basel, visitors could not help but slowed down their pace when a series of black and white photographic documentation came into sight.

"Demonstration to uphold the Constitution" is written at the front of the red banner to drum up support from relatively democratic figures of the authority, photographed by Liu Heung-shing, Chinese-American Pulitzer Prize winner and former Associated Press photojournalist and photographer.

On an early morning in fall in 1979, the year after China initiated the economic reforms, a group of non-academy Chinese artists exhibited a total of 163 works with distinctive Modernist style and rebellious thoughts, displayed on the iron railings of The National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) after they were deprived the right to use an official exhibition space.

The demonstration on October 1st, 1979, started from Democracy Wall of Xidan street to the building of Beijing Committee of the Communist Party of China, where marchers sang L'Internationale together in the end, photographed by Mr. Liu.

Curators named exhibition with the word, Star, which means each star exists as an independent illuminator rather than the only illuminator during the Cultural Revolution when Mao Ze-dong was hailed as sun. This art exhibition without official permission gained huge supports from art students and famous artists at that time.

Supporters from Fertile Ground, a folk magazine in China, wave placards saying that "Art for artistic freedom" during the demonstration, photographed by Mr. Liu.

On the following day of the opening, however, the police from the Dongcheng District of Beijing arrested two core curators, Huang Rui and Ma Deng-sheng, and acclaimed that The Star Exhibition affected the daily life of the masses and social order.

Mr. Liu shot the scene when visitors were looking at artworks of The Stars Art Group in 1979.

After two months of demonstrations and negotiations, folk artists from The Stars Art Group eventually got legal permission to exhibit their artworks at the gallery of Beijing Artists Association, which attracted more than two hundred thousand audience.

As an oil painting displayed in the first edition of The Star Exhibition 1979, The Guitar's Story, has shown Chinese artist Huang Rui's interest in the Space, which gradually become an important subject of his work afterwards.
Silence is an early wood carving of  Chinese artist Wang Ke-qing and was displayed on The Star Exhibition in 1979. Mr. Wang purposely engraved lines of X in the position of the eye, like the sealing tape, referring to the Gang of Four who wanted to blindfold the eyes of Chinese people in the Cultural Revolution.

The second edition of The Stars Exhibition was successfully held in 1980, yet, it aroused the panic among senior figures of Chinese art field.

The square painting that deeply explores the notion of space was drawn by Mr. Huang in 1983, who moved to Japan in the next year.

An art exhibition jointly organized by Huang Rui, Ma Deng-sheng and Wang Ke-ping was banned due to the Anti-Spiritual-Pollution Campaign launched by the conservatives within the Communist Party of China in 1983.

Chinese artist Ma De-sheng began to draw water-and-ink paintings in the early 1980s. Goddess was created in 1987 with the sense of actual situation in traditional Chinese paintings.

The Stars Art Group was then gradually disbanded after most members went abroad.

Zen Space is the latest artwork drawn by Mr. Huang Rui this year.
Visitors are looking at artworks of The Stars Art Group and relevant photographs displayed in Art Basel.

Art Basel Hong Kong 2019 features three mediums of arts from multiple Chinese art curators including oil paintings by Huang Rui, woodblock prints by Ma De-sheng and wood carving by Wang Ke-qing.

Visitors put their feeling towards the 40th anniversary of The Star Exhibition into words in the comment book.

Besides, a series of photographs taken by Liu Heung-shing, a Chinese-American photojournalist and former Pulitzer Prize winner, was jointly displayed to mark this monumental year in the history of Chinese contemporary art.

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) is an English news publication produced by international journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University. It started as a printed magazine in 1969. Today, TYR is produced across different platforms.

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