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Posted on on August 11th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (

Ai Weiwei New York photographs 1983-1993 at the Asia Society Museum, New York City.

To be seen – June 29 through August 14, 2011.

Irith Jawetz writes from New York – Yesterday I went to visit the Ai Weiwei New York photographs 1983-1993 exhibit at the Asia Society Museum in New York City.
It is an exhibit of 227 photographs(chosen by the artist from his 10,000 collection of photographs) taken by Ai Weiwei while he resided in New York City during those 10 years. It was shown in Beijing in 1979 and was the first avant-garde art exhibition after the Cultural Revolution. This is the first time Ai Weiwei’s New York photographs are being shown outside of China.
Before Ai Weiwei became internationally known as an activist, he lived in a tiny apartment in the East Village, New York City, and belonged to a community of expatriate Chinese artists and intellectuals. He uses his camera to document his life, his surroundings and the atmosphere in New York City during this time. His main photographs show such diverse topics as East village poetry readings, the riots in Tompkins Square Park, Aids protests, drag queens at Wigstock,and a very significant photograph of a young man opposed to the Gulf War in 1991 with a sign “Don’t fight for the oil bo$$es”. Among his more happy photographs one can find some street scenes, dinners at various restaurants, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day parade, Chinese New Year’s celebration on Mott Street, dress rehearsal for “Turandot” at the Met, various museums and park gatherings. Some well-known artists and intellectuals from China such as artist Xu Bing,  composer Tan Dun, film maker Chen Kaige, and American “celebrities” such as  Allen Ginzberg, Al Sharpton, Harry Smith and even Bill Clinton campaigning on the Lower East Side of Manhattan are also part of the exhibition.
Al Weiwei returned to Beijing to take care of his ailing father, and has influenced many young artists, mostly those who settled on the outskirts of Beijing and have created radical performance art. They called the area they lived and worked in “Beijing East Village”. He has become a central figure in the art scene by creating art works, publishing books and curating exhibitions.
Ai’s artwork has been exhibited in Australasia, Europe, North and South America. It was included in the 48th Venice Biennale in Italy (1999), 1st Guangzhou Triennale in China (2002), 1st Monpellier Biennial of Chinese Contemporary Art in France (2005), The 2nd Guangzhou Triennial (2005), Busan Biennial in Korea (2006), The 5th Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Australia (2006), Documenta 12 in Germany (2007), Liverpool Biennial International 08 in the United Kingdom (2008), 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale and the 29th Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil (2010).

Young Ai Weiwei

One of his most famous works was Fairytale which was his contribution for Documenta 12 in 2007. For this project Ai Weiwei brought 1001 people from all over China to a small town in Germany called Kassel. They were chosen through an open invitation he posted on his blog. Ai even designed clothes, luggage and a temporary home in an old textile factory. He let them wander around the city during the exhibition time of three months. The participants were divided into five groups that each stayed in Kassel for eight days. According to Philip Tinari the primary design object here is not the clothing or suitcases but the participants’ experiences, even their spirits .During the exhibition his monumental outdoor sculpture titled Template, made of wooden doors and windows from destroyed Ming and Qing Dynasty houses (1368–1911), collapsed after a storm. In 2008 he curated the architecture projectOrdos 100 in Ordos City, Inner Mongolia. He invited 100 architects from all over the world (29 countries) to participate in this project.

Ai also curated the exhibition The State of Things, together with Belgian artist Luc Tuymans. It was shown at the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels from 18 October 2009 to 10 January 2010 and at the National Art Museum in Beijing from 1–30 May 2010. From October 2009 to January 2010 Ai Weiwei exhibited So Sorry at Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany. This solo exhibition showed Ai Weiwei’s largest retrospective to date. The title refers to the thousands of apologies expressed recently by governments, industries, and financial corporations worldwide in an effort to make up for tragedies and wrongdoings – though often without shouldering the consequences or the desire to acknowledge let alone repair. Saying sorry – or not saying it – is in the headlines everywhere and thus also in China. For this show Ai Weiwei created the installation Remembering on Haus der Kunst’s façade. It was made out of 9000 children’s backpacks. They spell out the sentence ‘She lived happily for seven years in this world’ in Chinese characters. This is a quote from a mother whose child died in the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Ai Weiwei said: “The idea to use backpacks came from my visit to Sichuan after the earthquake in May 2008. During the earthquake many schools collapsed. Thousands of young students lost their lives, and you could see bags and study material everywhere. Then you realize individual life, media, and the lives of the students are serving very different purposes. The lives of the students disappeared within the state propaganda, and very soon everybody will forget everything.”

On 25 July 2009 Ai Weiwei opened his solo show According to What? at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, Japan. This exhibition presented 26 works, most made over the past decade.
In October 2010, Sunflower Seeds was installed at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, London. The work consists of one hundred million porcelain “seeds,” each individually hand-painted in the town of Jingdezhen by 1,600 Chinese artisans, and scattered over a large area of the exhibition hall.The artist was keen for visitors to walk across and roll in the work to experience and contemplate the essence of his comment on mass consumption, Chinese industry, famine and collective work. However, on 16 October, Tate Modern stopped people from walking on the exhibit due to health liability concerns over the porcelain dust. In February 2011, a 220-pound (100 kg) pile from Sunflower Seeds sold for $559,394 (well above its high estimate of $195,000) at Sotheby’s in London.
Despite the artist’s absence, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads opened on 4 May 2011, at the Pulitzer Fountain outside the Plaza Hotel in New York City.The heads were also on display at Somerset House in London from 12 May – 26 June 2011. The heads copy 18th century heads in the gardens of the Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, near Beijing. They were ransacked by British and French troops during the Second Opium War of 1860, some of them resurfacing in 2000. A Guggenheimcurator read Ai’s words, “Without freedom of speech there is no modern world, just a barbaric one.”
Ai’s work is included in numerous public collections, among others the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. On 20 April 2011, Ai was appointed Visiting Professor of the Berlin University of the Arts.
In March 2010 Ai Weiwei received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the Faculty of Politics and Social Science, University of Gent, Belgium
In September 2010 he received Das Glas der Vernunft (The Prism of Reason), Kassel Citizen Award, Kassel, Germany.

However, his most recent and controversial art work was when he was commissioned as the artistic consultant for design, collaborating with the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, for the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics, also known as the “Bird’s Nest.” Although ignored by the Chinese media, he had voiced his anti-Olympics views. He later distanced himself from the project, saying, “I’ve already forgotten about it. I turn down all the demands to have photographs with it,” saying it is part of a “pretend smile” of bad taste. In August 2007 he also accused those choreographing the Olympic opening ceremony, including Steven Spielberg and Zhang Yimou, of failing to live up to their responsibility as artists. Ai said “It’s disgusting. I don’t like anyone who shamelessly abuses their profession, who makes no moral judgment.” In February 2008, Spielberg withdrew from his role as advisor to the 2008 Summer Olympics. When asked why he participated in the designing of the Bird’s Nest in the first place, Ai replied “I did it because I love design”.

Ai Weiwei was ranked 13 in ArtReview‘s guide to the 100 most powerful figures in contemporary art: Power 100, 2010.

In the past four years Ai Weiwei has become known for criticizing the Chinese Government.

In April he was arrested and detained for three months.

On June 22, 2011, the Chinese authorities released Ai Weiwei on bail after close to three months’ detention on charges of tax evasion

To quote Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu:
“Ai Weiwei is one of the most provocative and influential conceptual artists from China today, and in recent years he has become an increasingly iconic figure. As an artist, his work has stood for individual expression and we hope his recent release, following nearly three months in detention in China, has delivered a new promise of creative potential for him and other artists there. These photographs are a poignant and powerful chronicle of Ai’s artistic vision and emerging political consciousness during his time in New York.”


The 2008 Summer Olympics BIRD NEST Stadium.


and from today’s paper:

The blogger, Ran Yunfei, 43, returned after six months in prison to his home in Sichuan Province with the condition not resume advocating political reform.

BEIJING — One of China’s more prolific bloggers, whose introspectivemusings on democracy, human rights and fatherhood earned him tens ofthousands of followers but also charges of inciting subversion, wasunexpectedly released after nearly six months in police custody, hiswife said Wednesday.
The blogger, Ran Yunfei, 43, returned to his home in Sichuan Provincelate Tuesday from a detention center in the city of Dujiangyan, hiswife, Wang Wei, said by telephone. She declined to describe theconditions of his release, but a friend and human rights defenselawyer who spoke with him, Pu Zhiqiang, said Mr. Ran would be subjectto six months of “residential restriction” during which his movementsand his ability to speak or write publicly would be curtailed.
Rights advocates said the authorities were likely to drop the chargesif Mr. Ran did not resume advocating political reform.
The charges against Mr. Ran could have led to 15 years in prison. Hisarrest in February was widely seen as the opening shot of a governmentcampaign to head off any contagion from the protests that have toppledauthoritarian Arab governments.
Until his arrest, in the city of Chengdu, Mr. Ran’s daily blogwritings and microblog postings provided readers with his thoughts ona range of topics, including the value of an uncensored media, theimportance of charitable giving and his struggle with chronic backpain. Although he wrote about the so-called Arab Spring and hisyearnings for a more open political system, he did not urge hisfollowers to take to the streets against the ruling Communist Party.
Mr. Ran was a reluctant critic, saying he would rather be traveling,drinking wine and reading. “In a free country I would happily spend mylife in the library doing research,” he said in one post. “But I livein a country where I cannot in good conscience merely live such alife. I feel that I have no alternative. I have to voice my criticismsof our messed up social reality. Otherwise I would be uneasy. I wouldnot be able to sleep well.”

He was released just hours after Ai Weiwei, the artist and governmentcritic, sent out a Twitter posting urging his followers to speak outabout the prosecution of Mr. Ran and five other men. Rights advocatessaid the timing of his release was coincidental.
Renee Xia, the international director of Chinese Human RightsDefenders, said that either the authorities lacked the evidence toprosecute him or they came to realize he played no role in the callsfor a Chinese “Jasmine Revolution” that originated overseas. “Theyalso might have decided the bad publicity from prosecuting one of thecountry’s most prominent bloggers was not worth the trouble,” Ms. Xiasaid.

In recent months, more than two dozen dissidents and rights advocateshave been detained in the crackdown. Some, like Liu Xianbin, anotherSichuan activist prosecuted on charges of inciting state subversion,were given 10-year sentences. Others, like Mr. Ai and Tang Jingling, alawyer from Guangzhou, have been granted conditional releases.
Mr. Pu, the rights lawyer, said he was hopeful that the release of Mr.Ran suggested that the government was easing up. “Whoever made thisdecision is courageous and wise,” he said.

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