On the 40th anniversary of the emergence of a group of radical artists known as the “Stars,” two of its members, Huang Rui and Zhang Hongtu, will discuss art in China in the years after the Cultural Revolution and the changes they see today. The Stars made headlines in 1979 when—in defiance of being excluded from a National Art Museum exhibition marking the 30th anniversary of the PRC—the avant-garde artists mounted their work in a nearby park. The art was seized, but the incident marked a milestone in China’s burgeoning contemporary art movement, which would take the international art world by storm. Huang and Zhang, whose works are collected by major museums around the world, share the challenges and responsibilities of being an artist in the China of yesterday and today.
Huang Rui is a seminal Chinese artist known for his paintings which play with language in a rebellious manner. Born in 1952 in Beijing, China, Huang never completed his formal art education before being made to undergo reeducation in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution. After this, he began producing paintings depicting unsanctioned subject matter intended to go provoke the communist regime’s strict censorship. During the mid-1980s, the artist moved to Osaka, Japan, where began producing work emphasizing symmetry and formal experimentation in the manner of Piet Mondrian. Huang returned to Beijing in 2001, and became one of the main advocates of the 798 Art Zone, a factory space which has since come to represent the flourishing contemporary art scene in China. He continues to live and work in Beijing, China.
Zhang Hongtu was born in Gansu, China in 1943. Zhang entered the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts in Beijing in 1964 and graduated in 1969, but due to unrest during the Cultural Revolution, remained at the school until 1973. In 1980 he went to the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu Provine, to study wall paintings, which left a lasting influence on his art practice. He moved to New York in 1982, and received the National Endowment for the Art Visual Artist Fellowship in 1995. Inspired by Mao Zedong, in 1987 Zhang Hongtu retouched the man on the Quaker Oats carton to closely resemble Mao in the work Quaker Oats Mao (1987), and other works such as Chairmen Mao (1989), in a satiric deconstruction predating China’s Political Pop art movement, which became very well-known in the early 1990s. In recent years, Zhang Hontu has shifted his focus to shan shui. Having worked on the “Repaint Chinese Shan Shui” series since 1998, he has consciously emulated the painting styles of such masters as Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) and Claude Monet (1840–1926) for well over a decade, such that he has created his own distinguished style by juxtaposing the East and West. He lives and works in New York.
Xin Wang is an art historian and curator based in New York. Her writing has appeared in E-flux journal, Artforum, Kaleidoscope, Hyperallergic, and Leap. Currently pursuing a PhD in modern and contemporary art at Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, Wang also works as the Joan Tisch Teaching Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art and manages the discursive archive on Asian Futurisms at afuturism.tumblr.com