Wang Keping

[27 Jan 2015]


In recent years, Chinese collectors have shown much interest in Chinese artists who moved to Paris during the 20th century and whose works offer hybrid visions of the great Asian traditions and Western modernity. Chinese artists who lived outside China are emblematic of a trans-cultural vision of creation and thus enjoy strong demand both in the East and the West. The French art scene is marked by prominent Chinese artists whose works are collected as much in Europe as in China: for example, ZAO Wou-Ki and CHU Teh-Chun whose abstract works are now worth millions. Another artist in this category is Wang Keping, whose ascension has been more discreet, but nevertheless steady. WANG Keping is a founder of the famous Les Etoiles (The Stars) group, whose name was chosen for this first unofficial group of Chinese artists because “at that time we were the only lights that shone in an endless night. Moreover, stars, that seem so small when seen from afar, could well be gigantic planets.

Keping’s artistic career
Primarily a sculptor, Wang Keping was born in 1949 in Beijing and worked in Paris for over 20 years. Considering his key position in the history of 20th century art, his work remains relatively unknown. In opposition to the canons of socialist realism, he founded the group “Les Etoiles” (Xing-Xing) in 1979 with HUANG Rui, MA Desheng, Zhong Acheng, BO Yun, LI Shuang and QU Lei Lei. He also had links at the time with an unknown young provocateur called AI Weiwei. That same year, after Beijing’s National Gallery of Art refused to exhibit their works in an exhibition, the Stars group decided to organize their own exhibition in front of the museum. This daring move caught the media’s attention around the world, including the headlines of the New York Times. A year later, the previously refused Stars were officially invited to exhibit their works at Beijing’s National Gallery.

Soon after the exhibition, the group’s members began to scatter. Wang Keping was expelled and chose France as his new anchor point. His politically explicit early works (e.g. Idols or Silence) received a lot of attention and were exhibited at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1989. However, over the years, his work became less abrasive, often taking women and couples as his subject. Keping worked with wood, respecting the original form of the living materials and following the natural curves to create highly sensual shapes. His sculptures, reminiscent of Modern totems created by Gauguin and Matisse, received a burnt-finish patina: according to Sylvain Lecombre, the wood is superficially scathed to obtain a finish that seems to completely penetrate the mass of the represented body.

Today Wang Keping is represented by galleries in Paris and New York (Zürcher gallery) and Hong Kong (10 Chancery Lane Gallery). As regards his secondary market price history, it dates back to 1998 when Christie’s in London offered his first sculpture for sale. Unfortunately, despite the attractive estimate of €5,000, his auction debut failed to sell. With demand absent, it was another six years before Christie’s made a second attempt (in 2004), but this time in Hong Kong. The carved couple offered fetched the equivalent of €5,400… a very good deal. Two years later, a solid demand base began to form and a sculpture of woman fetched an exceptional result (for that time) of almost €50,000, double its estimate, this time in New York. A month later another sale generated €63,000 in Hong Kong (Companion, Sotheby’s April 8, 2004). After that, his French market jumped into life, and his price index moved rapidly into line with his international prices.

Today, Wang Keping’s works seem to have escaped speculative impulses. His prices have been gradually climbing for eight years. However, the artist remains fairly unknown in the West, a fact that he laments, suggesting that art critics, journalists and museums often overlook his work because it doesn’t comply with current fashions in art. China, on the other hand, is paying him increasingly visible homage, including a solo exhibition in 2013 at the prestigious Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. In the meantime, Wang Keping is patiently waiting for his moment of glory in France.