1979. A small group of self-taught artists calling themselves “The Stars” (Xing Xing) organize an unpermitted exhibition of their works on the railings of the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) after being denied an official exhibition space. China was barely emerging from the Maoist era – with the death of the Great Helmsman and the downfall of the Gang of Four in 1976 – during which reigned a conception of art called “in the service of the people” . China’s capital was going through the “Beijing Spring”, a brief period of political liberalization, and Deng Xiaoping had just launched China’s Reform and Opening Up.
Before being banned by the authorities after three days, the unauthorized exhibition attracted 30,000 Beijingers eager to open to the world. What they discovered was over 150 works liberated from ideological constraints, created by 23 artists whose leitmotiv was the “demand for artistic freedom”. Chinese contemporary art was born. In the following years, before 1989, several members of the Stars would go into exile: Huang Rui to Japan, Wang Keping, Ma Desheng and Li Shuang to France, Qu Leilei to the United Kingdom, Ai Weiwei to the United States… These artists remain important figures of Chinese art today.