An Evening with the Minds Behind 'Light Before Dawn'


'Light Before Dawn' Exhibition Lecture Series

Evening forum with guest curators, collector, and participating artists about Light Before Dawn: Unofficial Chinese Art 1974-1985

Registration: 6:30 pm
Forum: 7:00 pm
Close: 8:15 pm

Light Before Dawn: Unofficial Chinese Art 1974-1985 presents a revealing look at the creative spectrum of China's most influential contemporary artists from three different artist groups of the period. Wuming (No Name), Xingxing (Stars), and Caocao (Grass Society) were formed by free-thinking artists in Beijing and Shanghai during the 1970s. They developed their art privately, even secretly, during and immediately after the ideologically restrictive Cultural Revolution, resisting the requirement that art should serve politics. Their art explored the beauty of nature, rethought history, probed sexual desire, and sought formal innovation, challenging the political status quo in a range of previously taboo modernist styles. Crossing the boundaries of subject matter and style, they questioned, re-evaluated and redefined the art of China. In 1979 and 1980 they mounted controversial exhibitions that conclusively rejected previous restrictions on art and personal freedom and forever changed the Chinese art world.

Tonight's panelists, who include one artist from each group, will trace the beginning of modernism in the post-Mao era, shedding light on the little-known art and activities of this era, which set the stage for the emergence of a contemporary art movement in China and on the global scene.

Julia F. Andrews is Professor in the Department of History of Art at The Ohio State University. Her 1994 publication, Painters and Politics in the People's Republic of China, 1949-1979 won the Joseph Levenson Prize of the Association for Asian Studies for the best book of the year on modern China. She co-curated one of the first American exhibitions of post-‘89 Chinese art, Fragmented Memory: The Chinese Avant-Garde in Exile, at OSU's Wexner Center for the Arts in 1993, and the Guggenheim Museum's ground-breaking 1998 exhibition, A Century in Crisis: Modernity and Tradition in the Art of Twentieth Century China, shown in New York and Bilbao. Her recent projects include Blooming in the Shadows: Unofficial Chinese Art, 1974-1985 (China Institute, 2011, New York), and Art of Modern China (with Kuiyi Shen, University of California Press, 2012).

Joan Lebold Cohen is an art historian, photographer, curator and collector. She began studying Chinese art in 1960, living many years in China, Japan and Hong Kong. She has written, exhibited and published photographs of Asia since 1973, and co-authored China Today and her Ancient Treasures with her husband Jerome A. Cohen, an expert in Chinese law. Ms. Cohen organized the first of a number of exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art in the U.S., Painting the Chinese Dream in 1982-3. Her 1987 book, The New Chinese Painting: 1949-1986 was the first in English about contemporary Chinese art after the cultural revolution (1966-1976). Ms. Cohen lectured on Asian art and film at Tufts University/School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from 1968-1990, as well as serving in the Education Department of the museum. She is an associate of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard and a member of the Modern China Seminar at Columbia University.

Ma Kelu was a core member of the Wuming (No Name) group. Born in Shanghai in 1954, he moved to Beijing at the age of six. In 1970 he was sent down to the countryside and then returned to the capital in 1972 as a factory worker. During the cultural revolution, he briefly studied painting at the Beijing Workers Cultural Palace where he met other young artists. Because schools were closed, they were basically self-taught. After participating in the three Wuming exhibitions in 1974, 1979, and 1981, Ma turned his attention to other forms of art, including lithography. He participated in a series of experimental exhibitions during the early and mid-1980s and in 1984 he resigned his job to become a professional artist. Ma was one of the participants in the “Graffiti Exhibition,” which was shut down by police before it opened. Ma moved to the U.S. in 1988 where he studied at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and then at SUNY before settling in New York City. He has exhibited his work in galleries and museums in North America and Europe. In 2006 he returned to Beijing, where he has a studio. He presented solo shows in Beijing in 2006 and 2011 and continues to exhibit actively in China and abroad.

Qiu Deshu was the major organizer and the youngest member of the Caocao (Grass Society) group. Born in 1948, Qiu grew up in Shanghai, where he studied art at the Luwan District Children’s Palace. He became an enthusiastic Red Guard painter during the Cultural Revolution. After high school, he was assigned to the Shanghai No. 18 Plastic Factory, where he was tasked with shoveling coal into the boiler and painting propaganda as a “worker-artist.” Assigned to the Luwan District Cultural Center after the Cultural Revolution, he arranged many apolitical exhibitions. In 1979, he founded the Grass Society and organized its ambitious 1980 exhibition, Painting of the 80s which was attacked for “abstract tendencies” and forced to close prematurely. For him, abstraction was a position to be taken in opposition to both Maoist socialist realism and the official art of the 1980s. Because of the political difficulties that resulted from the Caocao exhibition, Qiu was relieved of curatorial duties and was marginalized in the Chinese art world. Between 1979 and 1983, Qiu began experimenting with the relationship between abstract painting and calligraphy, inventing a method he called “Fissuring.” In 1985-86 he spent a year as a visiting scholar at Tufts University in Boston and began exhibiting abroad. Upon his return to China in 1986, he resigned his state employment and became a professional artist. He has exhibited widely overseas since 1985 and has had two major solo exhibitions in China, at the Shanghai Art Museum, in 1994 and 2008. Since the latter, his work has been included in many major exhibitions at domestically and internationally.

Qu Leilei, a core member of the Stars, became involved with the underground literary journal Today as an illustrator. Born in 1951 in Heilongjiang province, Qu and his family moved to Beijing when he was four. His elementary school art teacher, Tan Wancun, had studied with the famous ink painter Qi Baishi, so Qu studied both free brush (xieyi) and outline style (gongbi) bird and flower painting with him, and also copied lianhuanhua. During the cultural revolution, he was sent down to Manchuria, and later joined the Navy. He later worked as a lighting engineer at CCTV. During this time he switched from traditional painting to Western art, particularly Russian and French modernism. Beginning in 1978, his ink drawings frequently appeared in Today, often under the pseudonym Lu Shi. Qu Leilei assisted his Today colleagues Huang Rui and Ma Desheng when they organized the Stars exhibition by introducing them to Wang Keping and other artists. Under political pressure, he left China for Britain in 1985 and has enjoyed a successful career abroad, now working primarily as an ink painter. He has presented solo shows in Geneva, London, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere, and exhibited in the 1999 Venice Bienniale. He also lectures frequently on Chinese art in the U.K.

Kuiyi Shen is Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism and Director of the Chinese Studies Program at UC San Diego. His research focuses on Chinese and Japanese art with an emphasis on modern and contemporary Chinese art and Sino-Japanese art exchanges in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Prior to his 1989 relocation to the U.S., he was director of the art book division at the Shanghai People's Fine Arts Publishing House. His publications include Between the Thunder and the Rain (San Francisco, 2000); The Elegant Gathering (San Francesco, 2006); Chinese Posters (Munich, 2009); Blooming in the Shadows (New York, 2011); and Arts of Modern China (Berkeley, 2012). Prof. Shen has also worked as a curator including A Century in Crisis, the modern portion of China, 5000 Years (Guggenheim Museum SoHo and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 1998), Chinese Painting on the Eve of the Communist Revolution (Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University, 2006), Reboot-The Third Chengdu Biennale (Chengdu Modern Art Museum, 2007), Why Not Ink (Today’s Art Museum, Beijing, 2012).


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Event Details

Thu 16 May 2013
7:00 PM - 8:15 PM
9 Justice Drive, Admiralty, Hong Kong
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Free admission; registration required; online registration only.
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