Taiping Tianguo

Artist Biographies


A son of the prominent poet Ai Qing, Ai Weiwei was born in Beijing in 1957. After years spent in forced relocation during the Cultural Revolution, Ai’s family returned to their hometown and in 1976 he enrolled at the Beijing Film Academy. Shortly thereafter, he became a member of the Xingxing (Stars) Group—widely acknowledged as a pioneer during the dawn of contemporary art in China—along with Huang Rui, Ma Desheng, Wang Keping, and others. Ai presented several watercolors in the second Stars Group exhibition (24 August – 7 September 1980), which was held at the China Art Gallery, attracting nearly 200,000 visitors during its two-week run. Although most of the art works by the members of the Stars Group were not explicitly political, the group’s intentions were highly so, having been animated by a belief in democracy, human rights and individual expression in wake of the Cultural Revolution.

In 1981, Ai left for the United States and enrolled at Parsons School of Design. He soon withdrew from the school but stayed in New York until 1993. For the period of more than a decade he spent in the city, residing mostly in the East Village, Ai was an inveterate, if somewhat unintentional, photographer of the place and its people. His pictures—said to number in thousands—chronicle the turbulence and vibrancy of this neighborhood and the city during arguably its most critical period. Featured in this diary of mostly black-and-white photographs are the artist’s compatriots in their impoverished years before they attained fame. Other creators who relocated to New York during this time—including artist Xu Bing, director Chen Kaige, composer Tan Dun among others—appear, as do the American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and Tehching Hsieh.

Since his return to Beijing in 1993, Ai has emerged not only as one of the most prominent figures in contemporary Chinese art and architecture, but also as a globally renowned cultural and political icon. His political activism and public criticism of the Chinese government led to his imprisonment and house arrest since April 2011.


Frog King (Kwok Mang Ho, born in 1947 in mainland China) has been a pioneer of conceptual art in Hong Kong. He was virtually a lone figure in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, who employed a wide range of media and forms of expression to challenge the highly conservative Hong Kong art scene of the time. Moments such as the 1974 exhibition he organized in Yuen Long (believed to be the first conceptual art exhibition in the territory) and the display of rotten eggs he presented at the inaugural exhibition of the Hong Kong Arts Centre in 1977 caused public scandals and have remained in the local memory. But Frog King’s truly legendary status arose from his 1979 performance at Tian’anmen Square and the Great Wall, using strings and plastic bags, elements related to his fascination with the five traditional Chinese elements. This is believed to be the first example of performance art in China.

In 1980 Kwok moved to New York and stayed there until 1995. During his time in New York he ran KWOK Gallery for two years in Soho and actively organized and participated in performances, often with other artists, while holding a number of jobs, such as decorating a Chinese restaurant and working on the art direction of the 1987 film An Autumn’s Tale. Kwok, who continues to be a highly prolific artist, is believed to have presented performances, sculptures, paintings and installations in over 3,000 art events all over the world since 1967. His recent exhibitions include the 54th Venice Biennale (2011), where he represented Hong Kong in a solo exhibition, and the Third Architectural Biennial, Beijing (2008).


Widely considered to be a legend in the history of performance art, Tehching Hsieh was born in 1950 in Nanjhou, Taiwan. Dropping out of high school early on, he dedicated himself to experimenting with various styles of painting. In 1974, having found employment as a ship worker, he left Taiwan and entered the United States near Philadelphia, later moving on to New York. He remained an illegal alien for several subsequent years, working menial jobs for a living. In 1978 he embarked on his legendary series of “One Year Performances” and by 1986 completed five of them. In the first performance (1978-1979), Hsieh locked himself up in a cage he constructed. An editioned print of a documentary picture from the performance is included in this exhibition. In the second (1980-1981), he attempted to punch the clock at every hour. In the third (1981-1982), he lived outdoors for a whole year, never entering any building or interior space, as represented in this exhibition through elements including a poster, a statement, a map, photographs, and a film. In the fourth (1983-1984), a collaboration with Linda Montano, the two artists were tied to each other, with a rope around their waists, and were never alone for the duration of the performance. In the fifth (1985-1986), he did nothing that pertains to art.

From 1986 to 1999, Hsieh worked on the “Thirteen Year Plan,” whose details remain unknown to date. On January 1, 2000, he officially announced that he had kept himself alive and would stop making art completely. Since a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 2009 and participating in several group exhibitions at venues including the Guggenheim Museum, he has occasionally discussed his only remaining project of constructing a museum dedicated to his lifework.


Martin Wong was born in Portland, Oregon in 1946 and grew up in San Francisco. Both of his parents were second-generation Chinese Americans. After studying ceramics at Humboldt State University in Eureka, California, and living in the city for a time, he returned to his hometown and lived in a commune in the Haight-Ashbury district, the famous epicenter of the Hippie movement. He also became involved as the graphic and set designer with the Cockettes, as well as the Angels of Light, two radical gay drag performance troupes of the early 1970s.

In 1978, Wong moved to New York to fully dedicate himself to painting. He quickly became known for his inimitable style and for masterful realistic urban landscapes and loving portraits of his Lower East Side neighbors. His work was shown in numerous solo and group shows throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He also amassed what is believed to be the world’s largest collection of graffiti art at the time, which he subsequently donated to the Museum of the City of New York. Wong returned to San Francisco in 1994, having been diagnosed with AIDS, but continued to work. In 1997-1998, he was the subject of a retrospective co-organized by the New Museum, New York and University Art Galleries, Illinois State University. Wong died in San Francisco in 1999. His paintings can be found in some of the most important public collections in the United States, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.