Supervisor: Prof. David Clarke and Prof. Q.L. Wan
Contemporary Chinese art has been flourishing and gaining recognition through international exhibitions since the 1990s. This has led to an increased study of Chinese art in the 20th century. Nearly all scholars regard the Stars (Xingxing) Exhibitions that take place in Beijing in 1979-80 as a marking of the emergence of contemporary Chinese art in the post-Cultural Revolution era. However, very little attention has been paid to the significance of the Stars Exhibitions of 1979-80 and to the diversity of the works in the exhibitions.
In this thesis, the Stars demonstration, the 1979-80 exhibitions and the works displayed in them are considered contextually, and placed in relation to their specific historical period. The artistic development of the individual artists in the period after the Stars Exhibitions is also considered.
This thesis is based on information collected through extensive interviews with the Stars artists, art critics, professors, other artists and participants in the democracy movement. It also draws upon historical documents such as the unofficial journals, art journals and news reports. By a contextual approach, this thesis will focus on the relationship between the context they experience and the production of works of art.
The Stars Exhibitions were unusual because they represent an unofficial and underground cultural current’s triumph over authority and official culture, and signal the development of unofficial art in the 1990s. The integration of foreign resident community in their activities and exhibitions has permitted a new artist-patron relationship between Chinese artists and foreign patrons to develop in the following decades. A large number of the works in the exhibitions are analyzed and compared with that of their contemporaries. The works include those reinterpreting tragic incidents, works addressing the problems of society, representation of cultural nationalism, representation of ordinary life subjects, portrayal of nudes and works exploring different subjects. The analysis of the artistic development of thirteen Stars artists, including five living abroad, seven living in the PRC and one who died in 1996, shows that they have created rich and diversified works in the last 20 years. Since the mid 1980s, Wang Keping, Ma Desheng and Li Shuang have been living in Paris; Qu Leilei has been living in London and Huang Rui in Osaka. After living in the West for some time, Shao Fei, Ai Weiwei, and Mao Lizi are at present residing in Beijing and Yan Li is in Shanghai. Yang Yiping and Bo Yun have been living in Beijing while Yin Guangzhong remains in Guiyang. However, Gan Shaocheng died in 1996. The contexts in which they live have affected their artistic development in different ways.
This thesis offers a new picture of the Stars Exhibitions and the works in them. This is the first compilation of the individual works that helps to unmask the invisibility of the Stars artists after the group disbanded in the 1980s.