But back on Sept. 27, 1979, they were just a ragtag group of young artists — mostly in their 20s; Mr. Huang was 27 — trying to mount Communist China’s first independently organized contemporary art exhibit. Denied exhibition space inside a government-run museum in Beijing, they set up on the sidewalk outside, displaying oil paintings and sculptures the likes of which most Chinese had never seen on public display… Word spread quickly, and within hours throngs of people arrived, some to spit and shout abuse at the artists, but others to leave letters of admiration. On the second day the show was declared illegal and shut down by the police. But in a bold move, the artists and their supporters marched down Changan Avenue in protest on Oct. 1, the 30th anniversary of the People’s Republic, demanding democracy and greater artistic freedom. The authorities yielded on the art show, allowing the group to hold a 10-day indoor exhibition the next month in Beijing’s Beihai Park.
…In a recent performance in Beijing’s 798 art district, Mr. Huang — standing on stilts and wearing a long white robe on which were printed terms that included “Obama,” “H1N1” and “Gulf War” — wrote the names of key people and ideas in China’s art world on dishes, smashing them with a small hammer as he went.
“When we were the Stars, we were independent,” he says. “I’m still trying to keep my faith. Though China appears to have opened up, there are too many compromises in today’s world. In the Stars’ time, we were dissident voices.” Embracing the official line, which Mr. Huang sees as a theme through China’s succession of dynasties, continues today, he says, and not just in what’s generally considered the art world.
See also past CDT posts on Huang Rui.