December 8, 2009

9.000 Rucks├Ącke By Ai Weiwei


For his exhibit at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, the China's most famous contemporary artist Ai Weiwei ordered 9,000 custom-colored children's backpacks. When installed on the facade of the museum, they spell out the phrase, "She lived happily on this earth for seven years," a quote from the mother of one of the more than 5,000 children killed when their schools collapsed in the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake. [image via aiww's twitpic. here's a closeup via flickr]

Ai organized other volunteers to compile lists of the children killed, and is one of the most high-profile critics calling the Chinese government to account for the shoddy construction of the schools. While he was preparing to testify in the trial of another activist, Ai was detained and beaten by police. Later, while installing his show in Munich, Ai was hospitalized and discovered to have significant internal bleeding on his brain. The NY Times says he almost died.

Also, he is resigned to an eventual confrontation and punishment at the hands of the Chinese government, even if he doesn't get banished to Chinese Siberia, forced to clean toilets and raise his family in a hole in the ground, like his father, Ai Qing, a famous poet.

All of which, when taken into account, you'd think, would lead Artforum's gossip columnist to cut him some slack during his open-air, beachfront artist talk at Art Basel Miami Beach last week, but no:

The last traces of jet lag worked in my favor Thursday morning, as I was more or less on time for Ai Weiwei's 10 AM kickoff talk for "Art Conversations," this year at the Oceanfront. The change in locale leavened the studied seriousness of previous fair editions; this was more of a communal sunbathing session. My perch on an unsettlingly sticky back-row bench provided me with a privileged position from which to watch the accumulating sweat spots on the back of all the button-up shirts. Midway through the talk, these same shirts started to come off like it was a party.

The growing nudity did not seem to faze moderator and Artforum contributing editor Philip Tinari, who made a valiant effort to get a discussion going despite Ai's stubbornly evasive or obstructionist answers. (Regarding the artist's upcoming plans to fill one swimming pool with milk and another with coffee: "What happens when the milk goes bad?" Ai: "It's spoiled milk.") Tinari did manage to get a provocative line or two from the artist, particularly when he asked Ai whether there was anything he'd like to say to any spies in the audience: "Your time is over," Ai declared, without a hint of humor in his voice.

Or maybe Chinese authorities realize that as long as Ai is confined to a relentlessly, politically unserious Western art world obsessed with its own superficial, high-end shoppertainment, he can't really do much harm, and they'll just let him alone to get rich.

L: Ai Weiwei standing in front of a wall of donuts on nails, an installation by Jennifer Rubell, at the Rubell Family Collection. R: Serious Collector Aby Rosen at a party honoring himself, with Serena Boardman Rosen, and former Paris Hilton fiancee Stavros Niarchos. Image via artforum.

"So Sorry," Ai Weiwei's exhibit at Haus der Kunst, runs through Jan 17, 2010 []
Scene & Herd | Moon over Miami [artforum]
China's Impolitic Artist, Still Waiting to Be Silenced [nyt via @daross140]

1 Comment

thank you for posting this.

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