Ai Weiwei Update: 05.20.11

NYC wheatpaste poster spotted by Jason Andrew, via Hyperallergic

• China's state-run media says Ai Weiwei, in police custody for 47 days and counting, evaded taxes, a claim his family says is bogus. Ai's wife, Lu Qing, says Ai's not even "the company's legally-designated representative, nor is he the chief executive." Lu has been told that her husband is "under residential surveillance" and that he still hasn't been formally charged.

• It's clear that petitions, condemnation of China by global diplomats and street-art campaigns won't sway China to release Ai. So many voices are now calling for an art-world boycott against the country. A petition at Avaaz.org -- which now has nearly 127,000 signatures -- suggests there's some interest in such a move, but a big question is whether galleries and institutions follow? Early indications aren't promising.

• London's Lisson Gallery, which has an Ai Weiwei show up now, won't back out of the Hong Kong art fair. In a release it stated why:
ART HK is an important international art fair that takes place in a special administrative region of China with its own democratic process, greater freedom of press and an independent judiciary. Hong Kong is a gateway to the entire Asian region, not just China, and its ART HK fair, auction houses and galleries represent the plurality of Asian voices and identities.

At this stage we feel that we can do more for Ai Weiwei by being present at the fair. By continuing to show his work we build new audiences for it and draw attention to his plight. We also wish to show our support for those people in Hong Kong who have come out on to the streets to protest in greater numbers than in any city in the West. To withdraw from ART HK and not show work by the artist would make us complicit in the authorities’ attempt to silence him and his supporters.
• London art blog Cathedral of Shit applauds Lisson for the explanation, but says the issue is more "complex":
...This isn’t a problem if you haven’t got an issue with China’s human rights abuses – and plenty of commercial galleries haven’t. Peculiarly, it’s more of a problem for those galleries who have, to their credit, gone on the record as disagreeing with China’s human rights record and in particular, the imprisonment of Ai Wei Wei. Which goes to prove, it’s not easy having a moral compass and working in the commercial art world – good luck to those, such as the Lisson, who seem to.
• The Art Newspaper notes that Lisson is joined by galleries like neugerriemschneider in Berlin (which is now showing Ai's work), Swiss dealer Urs Meile, and others in exhibiting at Art HK.

Yesterday, Modern Art Notes' Tyler Green asked, "Is it appropriate for an American art museum [and specifically the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which plans to show its collection at the Palace Museum in Beijing] to be engaged in this kind of transaction with the Chinese when the Chinese have demonstrated their hostility to — and fear of — their country’s most internationally prominent artist?

• Via Artnet.com, German curator Roger Buergel, who brought Ai to Documenta in 2007, has this explanation for the "enormous passivity" of the western art world over Ai's plight: "[M]ost of them are glad to be rid of Ai Weiwei." Says Buergel: "Ai Weiwei is in the right. His arrest is a political crime. That's also why it's so important that the West protests. Yet our artists are obviously lacking in their sense of historical awareness."

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel critic Mary Louise Schumacher asks whether the Milwaukee Art Museum, which is showing a traveling exhibition of Chinese art, The Emperor’s Private Paradise, this summer, should protest Ai's captivity. She writes that the museum has been silent on the issue. Museum director Dan Keegan offered this flaccid defense: “The political situation is extremely complex and the Museum is sensitive to the discussion that Ai Weiwei’s detention has created and we are obviously concerned for his well being. To that point, I think that our ‘Summer of China’ can play a role in expanding understanding and forwarding the dialogue between cultures.”

• Kudos to those in the art world -- from institutions like Dia and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, which yesterday hosted a 24-hour protest, to artists worldwide, including just yesterday, Damien Hirst -- who have gone where Keegan won't. A measure of the lack of optimism about Ai's situation: Protests are planned to commemorate Ai's 10oth day of captivity, nearly two months from now, while others I've talked to are considering 90-day observances.

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