Art is resistance against authority.
April 3 to July 7, 2014: Ai Weiwei in Berlin
On Thursday, April 3, 2014, the Berlin museum in the MARTIN-GROPIUS-BAU will open the biggest exhibition of the work of Beijing artist Ai Weiwei yet. The master himself has been invited to the opening, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier have been asked to obtain permission to travel for the artist, who is banned from traveling abroad by the People’s Republic of China. Whether this is granted or not, the reaction of the Chinese government is sure to amplify the triumphant success for Ai Weiwei.
That alone is perhaps enough to explain the brilliance of Ai Weiwei. For the first time, an apparently powerless individual has succeeded in converting the authority of this huge empire (with its traditions of despots and loyal subjects dating back over 2,000 years) into a ping-pong ball for his own interests. In the process, Ai combines typical Chinese salesmanship with an altogether un-Chinese refractoriness.
One example: after the earthquake in Chengdu (Sichuan Province) in 2008, he collected the names of 80,000 casualties, including several thousand children, which he wanted to publish on his art blog. In addition, he designed a work of art showing 9,000 of the dead children’s satchels. The work was exhibited in the HAUS DER KUNST in Munich in 2009. What’s more, Ai Weiwei explained on his Internet blog why so many children were killed by collapsing school buildings: the steel girders originally intended for school construction were swiped by the responsible party bigwigs to build their own houses.
Any such announcement could have been disastrous for the Communist Party leadership, as it might have led to rebellion in the province and encouraged armed resistance. What did the authorities do? They blocked the blog, but did not institute any legal action against the artist for libel or similar, because then the truth would really have come to light. Instead, Ai Weiwei was arrested for supposed tax evasion – an accusation for which, coincidentally, the state has to this day not produced any evidence.
Since then, Ai Weiwei has continually suffered victimization and bans that make his life more difficult and affect his health. He is monitored by cameras day and night in his Beijing studio, and shadowed by security police whenever he leaves the house.
This information is not unknown abroad. Being a dissident only increases his fame. It makes him a hero and an internationally known figure. The question, “Can you name a living Chinese artist?” is answered the same by everyone across the globe: “Ai Weiwei.”
Needless to say, Ai is also the most expensive Chinese artist – the market leader and a living brand at the same time. Something that he comments on with humor: for example with the Neolithic china vase that he decorated with the Coca-Cola logo – the epitome of marketing. Waggishly, he also likes to present himself shattering Ming vases, perhaps as a way of evincing his disrespectful attitude to Chinese tradition.
Ai Weiwei also likes to provoke with apparently pornographic photographs. In this way, he provides the Chinese justice system with the opportunity to take him to court again – and at the same time gives the international press the chance to present such trials as farcical and publicize his portrait. Ai Weiwei’s Buddha habitus with the mischievous smile of a court jester might be considered the most popular artist image since Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, or Joseph Beuys.
His sangfroid makes him untouchable. And even if all the West’s hydrogen bombs could probably never bring the omnipotent party apparatus of the People’s Republic close to defeat, a chubby little man, armed with creative wit and artful wisdom, could certainly manage it: the genius Ai Weiwei.
Exhibition: Ai Weiwei, “Evidence,” Thursday, April 3 to Monday, July 7, 2014, open Wednesday to Monday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the MARTIN GROPIUS BAU Berlin, . Telephone: +49-30-254-860
Ai Weiwei (in Chinese characters)
The ZEIT-Magazine (number 13 from 20th march 2014) has published a special edition designed by Ai Weiwei himself, where he presents photos and artworks never exhibited before (available at the newspaper trade).
Other exhibitions and events worth visiting:
Egyptian museum and papyrus collection with a bust of Queen Nefertiti: NEUES MUSEUM on the Berlin Museum Island
Antique collection with the Pergamon Altar: PERGAMON MUSEUM, ALTES MUSEUM on the Berlin Museum Island
Art gallery with works from the 13th to 18th centuries, including Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel, Albrecht Dürer, Raffael, Titian, Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, and Jan Vermeer van Delft: KULTURFORUM near Potsdamer Platz
20th-century art with works by artists ranging from Ernst Ludwig Kirchner to Joseph Beuys, presented in a masterpiece of Bauhaus architecture by Mies van der Rohe: NEUE NATIONALGALERIE near Potsdamer Platz
Museum der Gegenwart including works by Andy Warhol and Anselm Kiefer, among others: HAMBURGER BAHNHOF near Berlin central station
Sammlung Boros, an important private collection with contemporary works of art, presented as a complete artwork in a former air raid shelter: BOROS BUNKER near Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse, Reinhardtstrasse 20, 10117 Berlin, Germany. Visits only with prior reservation by telephone at +49-30-2759-4065
JEWISH MUSEUM with documents relating to Jewish culture in Germany and the Holocaust, in the museum construction by architect Daniel Libeskind, Lindenstrasse 9–14, 10969 Berlin, Germany
DDR MUSEUM with interactive documents regarding political and private life in the formerly Russian-occupied Eastern part of Germany up to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989: Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 1, 10178 Berlin, Germany
BERLIN WALL MEMORIAL, open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.: Bernauer Strasse 111, 13355 Berlin, Germany