A Call for Modest (or not) Proposals
I guess, being helpless (or thinking I was), I was simply hoping the Chinese government would slap some fine on him, but eventually relent and let Ai Weiwei go. I mean, the whole world is watching...they couldn't really keep him that long or harm him could they?
Apparently, there's a lot I have to learn about the world's rising super power. Ben Davis, who corrected a previous misunderstanding regarding another Chinese artist, cautiously reported the following update on the case of Mr. Ai:
The most sinister development — and the only real glimpse yet of what might be going on with the artist himself — has been the release of an account, penned under a pseudonym by someone identifying himself as a disaffected reporter with the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency. The piece was published in English translation by ChinaAid, a United States-funded organization dedicated to tracking religious persecution in China, with the caveat that the organization could not independently confirm its veracity. It states that a "Public Security Ministry official with a conscience" told Xinhua insiders the details of the brutal means used on Ai: "Fu Zhenghua, the chief of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, instructed those handling the case to show Ai Weiwei the video of [dissident lawyer] Gao Zhisheng being tortured, including shots of electric batons being inserted into Gao's anus and his blood, semen, feces, and urine spurting out," the account alleges. "Fu Zhenghua also issued an order saying: Whatever methods were used on Gao Zhisheng, use the same ones to make Ai Weiwei give in. After several consecutive days of torture, Ai Weiwei was finally compelled to sign a statement of confession, admitting to tax evasion."Yesterday, artist Anish Kapoor dedicated his giant sculpture "Levithan" (which just opened at Paris' Grand Palais) to Ai Weiwei:
The ChinaAid account also contains a detailed narrative of how Ai's past activism personally offended several powerful Chinese officials, asserting that the current persecution has been spurred by high-level grudges. Whether or not the nightmarish descriptions of Ai's torture can be confirmed, in the absence of any word from the artist since he disappeared, observers are bound to imagine the worst.
"I've never met Ai Weiwei but he's a colleague, an artist," said Kapoor. "In a very simple way he is heroically recording human existence. All he's done is to record death by administration, death by corruption, inefficiency. I don't even think he's pointing that sharp a finger, frankly."It is more than a month that he's been completely disappeared. It is a true tragedy. Accuse him of something. Give him a lawyer. Let him defend himself … The state is not threatened by artists."He also called for more unified protest from the art world:
"It's a month now that the poor man has been held without a voice, but not only that, his family doesn't know where he is," Kapoor told the BBC. "This is not a situation that is acceptable in any circumstances. It does bear witness to the barbarity of governments if they're that paranoid that they have to put away artists. It's a ridiculous situation." (There is a kind of symmetry here, as Kapoor's massive tower is going to highlight the London Olympics, while Ai designed the Bird's Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics, famously disowning it as a protest against the political situation in China.) Kapoor also used his stature to call for the art world to do more to take a stand, proposing a possible day of global solidarity: "Perhaps all museums and galleries should be closed for a day across the world. I think some such campaign needs to form itself."I would agree. What I think we don't need, though, is the sort of divisive comment offered up by a curator you'd expect better from:
Roger Buergel, known for helping put on the iconic Documenta art exhibition in 2007, slammed the international art community for failing to speak out strongly enough on Mr. Ai’s disappearance. “I think most of them are glad to be rid of Ai Weiwei,” Mr. Buergel, who invited Mr. Ai to Documenta, said in an interview with Germany’s Spiegel Online. “Young Western artists are producing works that amount to nothing more than footnotes in art history, and then this Chinese artist appears who takes a totally different approach and makes 98 percent of the art world look very, very old.”Even if Mr. Buergel sincerely feels his silly mind-reading exercise might prod people and lead to more action, it's a bit much to suggest jealousy would lead most of the art world to be glad Ai Weiwei is being detained. Besides, any such suggestion is demonstrably countered by the fact that his detention has done little to prevent Mr. Ai's work from being exhibited or bring him attention:
Exhibitions of Ai's work continue to proliferate. New York, of course, has just opened Ai's "Zodiac Heads" at the Pulitzer Fountain as a public art commission. In London, Lisson gallery is going ahead with an Ai Weiwei retrospective, while Berlin's Neugerriemschneider has recently debuted a show of his works.No, rather than Mr. Buergel's counterproductive scolding approach, I think Mr. Kapoor's call for unified campaigns sets the right tone. Clearly, more needs to be done. Organizing the art world can be akin to herding cats, but I would be willing to join other galleries and institutions by closing in protest. It would take someone like the Met being involved to really make it work (hint, hint), but spreading the idea is step one.
Also in Germany, the German Academy of Arts announced on Saturday that Ai Weiwei had been named a member.
But I'm also willing to consider other actions. Consider this an open thread on what the art world could do to send a stronger message to our government and the Chinese government that Mr. Ai's detention is entirely unacceptable. What could send that message?
Labels: ai weiwei