Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"The world's most powerful artist"

Sunflower Seeds, opined by certain critics as Ai Weiwei's finest work, is composed of 100 million pieces of porcelain painted by Chinese craftsmen to resemble sunflower seeds.

That is what Art Review magazine named Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

And like most artists, he shrugs that off, at least in part. "I don't believe that much in my own answer," he said in the September issue of Smithsonian magazine. That issue is where I personally found for the first time the story of Ai Weiwei (pronounced, Eye Wayway).

I had heard his name before, of course.  I had seen his art and through Amnesty International, I had known of his political struggles in his native China.  This is all very surface-level.  So when I saw the article, I grabbed the issue of the Smithsonian off of my parents' coffee table and took the magazine to class and to lecture, reading about the artist whenever I had downtime.  What arose from the profile both encouraged me and made me smirk with tedium.

Ai Weiwei has been in and out of Chinese jails, all for being critical of that nation's regime.  He painted a list that named all 5,000 children who died in a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan because their schools were poorly built.  Then, as Smithsonian writer Mark Stevens points out, "At the same time, he plays a decidedly unsaintly, Dada-inspired role--the bad boy provocateur"who in one of his photographs is portrayed as giving the White House the finger.

Yeah.  Like we've never seen that done before.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not mocking Ai Weiwei.  Not in the least.  I suppose I just hope for more from him than a sophomoric, punk rock expression like that photo.  Especially in light of his other pieces, such as his irony-laden Cube Light or in Colored Vases, where he took pottery vessels thought to be over 5,000 years old and splashed them with various shades of paint, ranging from azure to cerise and even pink.  That, in my opinion, is a true iconoclast.  What comes before us need not always be revered, particularly if it no longer works (such as a political system).  Being blindly bound to tradition (or patriotism) improves nothing.

Those are just a few of his achievements.  Ai Weiwei was tapped to design the famous "bird's nest"stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.  He created the design and then boycotted the games, mocking them as the state's "religion." He also founded a corporation that he calls Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd.  Yet at the same time, it is not simply communist regimes that draw his ire, it is control systems of most any sort.  Note the aforementioned "giving the bird" to the White House.

You know what?  I'm going to change my mind about what I said earlier.  It's not exactly a "sophomoric"gesture to take a photograph such as that one. Well it is, but it's a necessary one.  It's as necessary as rock n roll, as The Clash's London Calling with Joe Strummer smashing a guitar on the cover and The Sex Pistols'' "God Save the Queen" with all of its vitriolic bile towards the old and stodgy.  We need artists like Ai Weiwei.  People my age and older have seen such defiant and rebellious expressions time and again.  Younger generations have not as much.  Artists like Ai Weiwei provide that provocative, challenging stance to established structures, which is an act of necessity lest stagnation and blind acceptance become too ingrained in us.

Fact is, we need more neo-Dadist "bad boys" and I can't really ask for more than to have one weaned on Van Gogh, Johns, and Warhol.

If you're in the area or if you can get there, a retrospective of Ai Weiwei opens at the Hirshorn next month in Washington D.C.  The exhibit's title, ''According to what?" is borrowed from a Jasper John's painting.  That's ok.  It just seems to fit.

My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!

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1 comment:

  1. My projecgt may have relevance



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