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Art Saturday: Free Ai Wei Wei

A number of years ago, I traveled with my father and brother to China.  We were there prior to the Beijing Olympics.  The city was undergoing massive construction and refurbishment in preparation for the big event.  The hotel where we stayed in Beijing was near the “bird’s nest” stadium, under construction but already iconic and stunning with the bands of stainless steel, large and curving high overhead.

We were there on business, but we were able to take some time to do some of the requisite tours:  The Forbidden City, Tian’an’man Square, granite production facilities, silk, pearl and jade factories, tea houses, natural healing and pharmacology centers, the Ming Tombs, the Great Wall.  At the end of the tours our guides would deliver us to nearby or attached stores where we could buy beautiful things produced for mass consumption, and they would receive a commission based on our purchases.  It was compelling to buy things after hearing and seeing the rich history of their production.

When I returned to the U.S., I opened an art magazine to an article about Ai Weiwei, China’s most renowned international conceptual artist.  I found he was a designer of the “bird’s nest.”  The article showed the bird’s nest and discussed controversial actions he had done in the name of art that included smashing a Ming vase.  But what excited me immensely was that I felt my trip gave me the insight to really understand his intentions, both subversive and intelligent.  His work is so clear about the commodification of culture, a deep well that he has gone back to again and again to raise questions about the nature of the state, the role of individuals in it, and how we relate to each other and our history.

Ai Weiwei has been a vigorous critic of the failures of the Chinese government.  He has endured a government beating that left him with internal head injuries, and his studio was demolished in January.  Last week he was detained at the airport by Chinese officials, his computers were impounded, and he has disappeared.

He currently has an exhibition at the Tate Modern called “Sunflower Seeds.”  One hundred million handmade painted porcelain seeds cover the floor in a large gallery.  At the Tate Modern site you can read more about his intentions for this project that took more than 6 years with thousands of artisans assisting to produce the replicas of sunflower seeds.  You can also find more information about him and his exhibitions if you search on line.

His work must continue.  Please sign the petition to release him here.

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