Version Flash | Chinese version


Contemporary Chinese Art- another kind of view

DSL Collection

Wang Keping, Couple, H 52 cm, L 25 cm, P 31 cm 1997; Sans titre, H 104 cm, L 27 cm, P 25 cm 1990; Masque, H 47 cm, L 28 cm, P 12 cm no date; Sans titre, H 72 cm no date; Totem, H 91 cm, L 34 cm, P 21 cm 1989; all made of Wood

Made of large logs of wood, the surface may be smooth and highly polished or showing some cracks, the colour may be a warm brown, close to black or nearly blue. Whether the works mean to represent one figure or two or a head only, they are always highly stylized and still offer the viewer?s eye no resistance to finding access.

These woodworks, which remind one of the 1920s and 1930s sculptures of German artist Ernst Barlach, are the work of one of China?s earliest independent artist of the post Mao Zedong era: Wang Keping. Born into a military family, Wang became a Red Guard and was sent to Outer Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution, worked as a TV-scriptwrite and actor, wrote poetry and - more or less by chance - began sculpting without any formal training. When in the late 1970s unofficial groups of artists like Wu ming [Nameless] or Xin chao [New Wave] were formed, Wang joined Xingxing [The Stars], which was probably the most influential of all. Founded in 1979 around the charismatic Ma Desheng and Huang Rui, members of the group were Yan Li, Yang Yiping, Qu Leilei, Mao Lizi, Bo Yun, Zhong Ahcheng, Shao Fei, Li Shuang and Ai Weiwei. Ma said: ?We called our group The Stars in order to emphasize our individuality. This was directed at the drab uniformity of the Cultural Revolution." Unable to get permission to exhibit inside Beijing?s National Gallery and with no other spaces available, the group held a spectacular show at the gallery?s fence and an adjacent park in September 1979 that was promptly closed down. In 1980 they where allowed into the Gallery and to the responsible official?s bewilderment attracted about 200.000 visitors. The Stars hitherto unknown kind of art had strong political inclinations. The audience probably did not understand the finer artistic points of what they saw but was totally aware of what this works stood for. The Stars works were less political in terms of subject matter but more through their choice of form and media as they referred to Western classical modernism rather than socialist art. The Stars were new in their stress of individualism and personal feelings. Due to constant official pressure and critique, the group dissolved in 1983 and many of its members left China.

Wang Keping?s most famous creation of this early phase was a wooden head-sculpture that clearly looked like Mao Zedong and at the same time very much resembled the iconography of a Buddhist Bodhisattva. The work that was called Idol, counts as one of the most important sculptures in modern Chinese art history. Today Wang lives in Paris and continues to work in wood. His figures are of a powerful vividness although they also have a touch of melancholy. A lot of them show strangely torn, twisted and distorted shapes. Some seem to have lost limbs, lack eyes or mouths or have over-dimensional genitals. In one string of his work, Wang is particularly interested in exploring and negotiating the possibilities of how to artistically render the female body. Visually informed by an amalgam of prehistoric ice-age statuettes and 20th century artists like Constantin Brancusi he carves heavy thighs, enormous breasts and big butts. But there are also restrained and subtly abstracted forms like Masque or Totem.
Now long outside of the ?Chinese? avant-garde, Wang exhibits worldwide and has reached a stage at that his work is defined not in ethnic terms but simply as art.

Wang Keping
wood sculpture,104*27*25 cm