- Focus :
Wang Keping, founder of the Star Group (Xing Xing) in Beijing 1978-79
"It has been 35 years since Wang Keping and I met in 1979. We were both young then. Wang Keping is an artist with strong characteristics, whose work is the most powerful among the Stars Group, expressing a strong political charge and primitive charm unique to wooden sculptures, ever since the beginnings. He is the first person in China since 1949 to reposition political idols into targets of satire and criticism. This was very shocking at the time. If we are to say that the Stars Group opened the first window to the fight for freedom in artistic expression for Chinese contemporary art, Wang Keping’s work would be the most characteristic spectacle from this open window. When we talk about the Stars Group and Chinese contemporary art at the late 1970’s, it is essential to discuss the relationship between Wang Keping’s work and the Democracy Wall movement.
We were only loosely acquainted in China. Later I went to the United States and he headed to France. We both felt the political pressure in making art as contemporary artists and the fear generated from censorship policies. Many years have passed before we reconnected in New York ; he lived at my East 3rd Street apartment at Lower East Side. We had a great time together, discussing art and visiting galleries. We even went to see the Philadelphia Museum of Art together.
I eventually went to visit his studio in Paris, which left me with a strong impression. His studio was piled with artwork, and he persistently produced new sculptures every day, as if his life and being were extensions of his unfinished works. He did not have any representing galleries or exhibition opportunities at the time, yet he had no intention to stop working under those conditions. To put it simply, no other joy at his other states of being compares to the delight that he experiences from his craft. He leads a simple life, usually having an apple for a meal, which was also quite memorable.
Wang Keping is not widely considered as a political artist. The themes, forms and craft that his work embodies are usually unrelated to what we commonly understand as politics. His art is mostly tied to women, sex, and physical relationships between men and women, and is often humorous and witty. His understanding of material and medium, and his standards for texture and treatment are exceptionally high ; there are few artists today who infuse character into the texture and form of artworks like he does. This is very similar to what traditional Chinese scholars call ba wan, an object of appreciation that gains a delicate touch when it gets smoothed out over time by the collector’s own hands. This sense of touch bestows warmth and humanity to his work. Wang Keping’s art possesses both a traditional understanding for sculptures and a unique interpretation for material and textures. This individualistic interest and treatment, as well as his understanding of abstract form and space, give his work the personality and sensitivity of contemporary art.
It is timely for the UCCA to present a Wang Keping exhibition. Over 35 years, he has experienced the very first chapter of Chinese contemporary art, and continued his career abroad in Paris as an individual artist. His experience inspires us to think about the relationship between an artist’s personal journey and contemporary art, as well as the connections between China and the place of Chinese artists on the global stage. These are all issues that we should ponder upon within the exhibition."
Ai Weiwei, essay in « Wang Keping », catalogue published to accompany the solo exhibition of Wang Keping at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (2013.09.27 to 2014.01.05)
- Gallery artists :
Brian Belott, Matt Bollinger, Paul DeMuro, David Lefebvre, Katharina Ziemke