Picasso of China or voice of dissent: Who is Ai Wei Wei? Profile

Ai Weiwei's middle finger at Tiananmen.

CHINESE ARTIST PROFILE

Ai Wei Wei is vying with Cai Guo Qiang to become the most famous contemporary Chinese artist in the world claims Artinfo in its must-read quote-dense 4 page profile produced on the occasion of  Ai Wei Wei’s first large-scale solo show world-wide (Ai Wei Wei: According to What? at Mori Art Museum July to November 2009).

Obedient or defiant? Contemporary Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei who was raised in China and has lived in the U.S for 12 years, integrates his social beliefs into his artwork with audacity and temerity.  Behind the title of design consultant for the Beijing Olympics “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium, Ai Wei Wei remains a mystery figure who flaunts multifarious identities:

According to Chinese authorities, he is a dissident to be watched, one whose inflammatory blog needed to be silenced. But to others, the Chinese conceptual artist, architect, photographer, and curator — loathed and loved for his human rights activism — is the courageous voice needed in today’s repressive China.

He’s been called a headline grabber, a master of borrowing from other artists, and a “scholar clown,” and he’s been denounced for criticizing symbols of elitism and authority ranging from New York’s Museum of Modern Art to the Chinese government to the Eiffel Tower.

Ai’s philosophies about society and his willingness to expose and explore the issues are evident in his artwork:

Chandelier by Ai Weiwei. 236 by 165 by 165, crystal, scaffolding, 2002

Chandelier by Ai Weiwei. 236'' by 165'' by 165'', crystal, scaffolding, 2002

Chandelier, a satire of the bizarre Chinese state aesthetic in the shape of half a chandelier that hangs in the museum’s entrance lobby.

Snake Ceiling is a serpentine installation formed from hundreds of new black-and-white backpacks sized for elementary and junior high school students. The coiled snake, suspended from the museum’s ceiling, alludes to an aesthetic form, the snake as ancient monster, and the tragedy and systematic cover-up at the heart of the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project, a focus for Ai’s guerrilla investigative activism.

Map of China by Ai Weiwei. Tieli wood from destroyed Qing Dynasty temples, 20 X 70 X 63 in., 2004.

Map of China by Ai Weiwei. Tieli wood from destroyed Qing Dynasty temples, 20 X 70 X 63 in., 2004.

Map of China (2006) is a 3D object made with intricately-assembled old wood pieces and traditional joinery that poses subtle questions and a critique about China’s perceived domination of Taiwan and regions such as Tibet.

Fairytale, premiering at the exhibition, is a 150-minute film consisting of video and images from Ai’s historic 28-day journey with 1,001 Chinese citizens to the 2007 Documenta 12 exhibition in Kassel, Germany.

Not only does Ai unify art and society in his artwork, he is also an activist blogger on the net.

…the high number of school fatalities was due to local officials siphoning money from school building costs. Grieving families said the structures were badly built and collapsed easily during the quake. But officials refused to list the names of the dead students, which could be used to unveil a possible cover-up, so Ai formed the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project with researchers and volunteers who discovered the names of 5,190 students.

Is it a coincident that he’s also the son of Ai Qing, an enemy of the state?

One of China’s most esteemed poets, he was sent to labor camps in northern Heilongjiang Province and western Xinjiang Province for 20 years for criticizing the Communist regime.

A fighter for freedom of choice, Ai also expresses challenging views about the Olympics last held in China and cultural censorship.

The Olympics became a very superficial activity that didn’t lift China into another possible condition but rather created great difficulties for [Chinese] society today.

China is still culturally under strong censorship, so a state museum would certainly never invite me,” he says. “If I have a show, I don’t want to be censored. … That’s not my principle. I don’t care if I ever have a show in China.

Read full article on ARTINFO for more about Ai Wei Wei: his personality, his canon and his views which have led Artinfo to make a bold statement about the importance of Ai Wei Wei.  After this MAM exhibition and

a larger one opening at Munich’s Haus der Kunst in October, Ai may overtake Cai Guo-Qiang as China’s most famous contemporary artist. Although Cai is a skilled, popular showman famed for his spectacular fireworks display at the Beijing Olympics, his work lacks the depth that is so integral to Ai’s many projects.

-Contributed by Wendy Ma

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