Sunday, May 29, 2011
Northeast L.A. Artists Support Incarcerated Chinese Artist With Makeshift Gallery
Today, everybody can become Ai Weiwei
--Writer, Filmmaker Ai Xiaoming
Northeast Los Angeles artists are organizing a show of support for imprisoned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. They are turning the vacant lot at the corner of York Boulevard and Avenue 50 into a make-shift gallery featuring works inspired by Ai.
Local artist Brian Mallman put out the call via Facebook and email. The first few works quickly showed up. More are on the way.
Ai’s art has earned him an international following. The 54-year old artist is known for his work in sculpture; architecture; conceptual, experimental and performance arts; photography; film; architecture; book publishing; social media and curation and for his linkage of art and social criticism.
Among the artist’s most recent works are “Sunflower Seeds,” an installation at the Tate Modern in London, which uses millions of individually hand-crafted tiny porcelain sculptures to create a commentary on individualism versus enforced conformity, and “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads,” which features a recreation of Chinese art ransacked by the British and French during the Second Opium War. “Circle of Animals” had its debut May 4 in New York City, without the incarcerated artist. A major survey show, currently at the Lisson Gallery in London, includes “Colored Vases,” for which Han Dynasty pots have been covered with industrial paint
“For the world, Ai continues to represent the promise of China,” former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman wrote in support of Time Magazine’s listing of Ai as one of 2011’s most influential people in the world. Given Ai’s international stature, many in the arts community would add that Ai “represents the promise of the world,” standing as an example of the artist in support of human dignity.
“It is very sad,” writes Huntsman, “that the Chinese government has seen a need to silence one of its most innovative and illustrious citizens.”
Ai comes from dissident stock. The arrest of his father, a highly respected poet, led to the family spending most of Ai’s youth in a work camp. But Ai’s current problems with Chinese authorities did not come to a head until 2008. Although he had served as an artistic consultant on the design of the stadium for that year’s Olympics in Beijing, Ai became a vocal critic of the “pretend smile” surrounding the games.
Ai ran further afoul of Chinese authorities when he exposed corruption that lead to the collapse of schools during the 2008 Szechuan earthquake. He assembled a huge team of volunteers, who collected the names of well over 5,000 young people killed in the quake, and then he began posting the names online and on the walls of his studio. He created a major installation in Munich called “So Sorry,” in which 9,000 custom-made school backpacks were displayed. The bags spelled out, in Chinese, “She lived happily on this earth for seven years,” quoting the mother of one of the students killed in the quake. He also began reporting on detentions of Chinese activists via Twitter.
In 2009, Ai was severely beaten by Chinese police. A month later, he almost died of the results. He underwent emergency brain surgery in Germany to stop massive internal bleeding.
Early this year, Ai’s studio was demolished by the Chinese government.
Ai was taken into custody April 3.
Weeks went by before any kind of information was released regarding Ai’s condition or charges against him. In mid-May, his wife was allowed a 20 minute supervised visit and reported him to be in apparent good health. On May 21, Ai was publicly accused via government aligned media of tax evasion and other financial improprieties. References were also made to possible charges of bigamy and dissemination of online pornography.
Ai’s is the most prominent name among those of many artists, writers, lawyers and other Chinese citizens who have been arrested in China in recent months.
"Other than a few small protests and an online petition, the art world has been largely silent publicly about Ai Weiwei’s imprisonment,” Mallman says of the York and Avenue 50 installation. “If artists don’t begin forming protests like this one, we need to start asking, ‘Why’?"
On the heels of a demonstration at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in support of the artist, a shipper has demanded the return of two Ai Weiwei designed chairs to China. The move, although nebulous, is being seen by the art world as ominous. Yet it does suggest that China is monitoring what is taking place on the international scene.
The intersection of York and Avenue 50, where the works are being posted, is a very active corner with heavy car and pedestrian traffic. It is an arts-rich corner with a number of arts venues within a block of the temporary outdoor gallery. There are also coffee and eating places and vintage and boutique stores that draw a diverse crowd to the boulevard.
Everyone—from “I’ve never done this before” to world-famous artist—is invited and encouraged to participate in the installation. Simply bring your Ai Weiwei-inspired art to the lot and put it on the fence.