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Tribute to Ai Weiwei

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Index 

  • Brief biography of Ai Weiwei
  • The beginnings
  • The success of Ai Weiwei
  • Ai Weiwei architect 
  • Why Ai Weiwei is important
  • Ai Weiwei arrest
  • Ai Weiwei and the Lego installation 
  • Ai Weiwei and Amnesty International 
  • Ai Weiwei today 

In this special we tell you the story of Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who defied the Chinese government with his works, denouncing the distortions of capitalism.

There are some persons who have doubts about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, not only about his art, which, like most of the figurative art of the 21st century, can hardly get everyone to agree with. The doubts that some critics have on Ai Weiwei are related to his character: a dissident artist who fights for civil rights by challenging the Chinese government, even ending up in jail for this. An artist who becomes ambassador of Amnesty International committed to denouncing the drama of migrants through his works.

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On the one hand there are those who dispute him with victimization, with phrases like: "In the end with the Chinese government if he went to look for it, he pulled the rope hoping to be arrested (among other things for tax offenses, officially ) and then be able to play the role of martyr for freedom of expression ". On the other he is challenged by the fact that his commitment to migrants is nothing but a way to advertise himself, in a certain sense.

Ai Weiwei, unlike others, has always proved consistent in his choices, to the point of ending up in jail. Moreover, whether it is sincere or not, the message that launches is right and enough is enough for me. Finally, and this is what matters to me, as a art curator, there is the fact that his is a fascinating story, which deserves to be told.

 

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Brief biography of Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist and designer. Born in Beijing in 1957 into a family of intellectuals. The father, a poet, is accused of "revolutionary ideas" by the Chinese Communist Party, so he and his family are sent to a military re-education camp.

For years the family will be forced to live in a cave in the Gobi desert and the father, Ai Quing, will be entrusted with the task of cleaning the latrines of the country. Only in 1976 will they be able to return to the capital.

In Beijing Ai Weiwei will remain there for a few years because in 1981, he decided to leave China to live in New York. These are intense years in which the artist will do many jobs to maintain and change many houses.

 

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The beginnings

Once in New York he falls in love with the conceptual art of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol's Pop Art. After twelve years in the United States, in 1993 he was forced to return to China to stay close to his seriously ill father.

His American experience makes him popular, there are many young artists who frequent him to get news on the latest trends in the art world. In this period he published three books on art: The Black Cover Book (1994), The White Cover Book (1995) and The Gray Cover Book (1997).

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In many of his works Ai Weiwei highlights how capitalism and consumerism in China are progressively erasing the nation's cultural and artistic heritage. For example, in the work Han Dinasty Urn with Coca Cola Logo (1994) the artist "decorates" an ancient recipient of the Han dynasty with one of the best known symbols of today's world. "I wanted to make it more current", said the artist.

The Dropping performance at Han Dinasy Urn (1995) will be much more dramatic, in which the artist, wearing the typical clothes of the Chinese workers, will be filmed while he lets himself fall from his hands a precious old Chinese cinerary urn of about 2000 years.

 

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The success of Ai Weiwei  

Ai Weiwei will underline the homologation imposed by the capitalist system with his big installation of the Forever series (2003), which have as main protagonists hundreds of bicycles to which pedals and chains have been removed (Forever is the best-selling bike brand in China).

If there is a figure that characterizes the entire work of the Chinese artist, it is certainly the continuous re-modulation of the contents and forms of tradition, especially that of his country. Remodeling means triggering short circuits but at the same time always preserving elements of loyalty. Ai Weiwei's language is never a language of rupture, and even violent gestures reveal a sense of respect in the background.

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Ai Weiwei architect

As well as a contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei is also an architect. In fact, since 2001 he has been the owner of the FAKE Design studio, with whom he collaborated as an artistic consultant for the design of the Beijing stadium for the 2008 Olympics: the famous "Bird's Nest". However, the artist will not preside over the inauguration in protest against the exploitation of the workers in the work for the preparation of the games.

In 2010, he built a studio in Shanghai, but it was razed a year later by the Chinese authorities who claim it was built without the necessary permits.

 

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Why Ai Weiwei is important

ArtReview, one of the most prestigious contemporary art magazines, has crowned the Chinese Ai Weiwei as the most influential artist in the world. Ai Weiwei is the second, after Damien Hirst, to finish on the podium since the classification was born. Ai, unfortunately, is not only famous for his works, but also for being persecuted by the Beijing regime.

In 2005 he opened a blog in which, besides talking about his artistic activity, he also commented on Chinese politics, criticizing and denouncing some choices of the Government.

 

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After the disastrous earthquake that struck China in 2008, it invites citizens to communicate the names of the dead children due to the collapse of the schools, built without meeting the minimum safety criteria. The decision to involve users in formulating this dramatic list was a way in which the artist denounced the lack of clarity on the part of the authorities regarding the counting of the victims (widely underestimated).

The blog is obscured and Ai Weiwei is interrogated and beaten up by the police. The same year the artist will create the “Snake Bag”, a huge snake built with school backpacks.

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Ai Weiwei arrest

It is in 2011 that an event takes place that will greatly influence the life of Ai Weiwei. On April 3, the artist is arrested at Beijing airport, on charges of tax evasion.

The artist is illegally detained in a secret place for 81 days (the first thirty handcuffed). He is not given the opportunity to talk to anyone and is constantly followed by two silent guards. Only at the forty-third day is he allowed to talk to his wife. The detention follows the withdrawal of the passport, the removal of his works from museums and the prohibition to publish articles on the web or to speak with the press. His house is also controlled by surveillance cameras and agents, while his name in China disappears from search engines.

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Ai Weiwei and The Lego installation

In 2014 he made a maxi installation realizing with the LEGO bricks (1.2 million!) The portraits of one hundred and seventy-six political persecuted (from Mandela to Snowden, from Galileo to Dante). When the artist asks the LEGO for other bricks to "update" the work, the Danish company forbids the supply because contrary to the use of the product for political reasons.

Ai Weiwei then, quoting Duchamp, publishes on Instagram a picture with LEGO bricks thrown into a toilet. There is such a fuss that the LEGO must back down and renounce the ban.

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Ai Weiwei and Amnesty International

In 2015 Ai Weiwei receives from Amnesty International the Ambassador Of Coscience Award, for his actions in support of human rights. In the same year the passport is returned to the artist. He took the opportunity to go to Germany where his wife and son live and then to Lesvos, to personally follow the drama of migrants. 

Many of his works in 2016 reflect this theme, such as the temporary installation Reframe, created for Palazzo Strozzi in Florence.

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Ai Weiwei today

A bulldozer and several workers destroyed the atelier of the dissident artist Ai Weiwei, on the outskirts of Beijing, China. Some artworks have been subtracted from his laboratory while others have been saved.

To report the incident was the same artist by his social profiles on which he published videos of the demolitions. "Today they started to demolish my 'Zuo you' studio in Beijing without first being informed," Ai wrote.

It is the second time that an artist's atelier, very critical of the government, is destroyed on the orders of the Chinese authorities.

The first time was in 2011, when the Shanghai municipal government decided that its Malu Twon studio should be closed and demolished. Due to his opposition to the regime, Weiwei was imprisoned for 81 days, in a secret location, from 2 April to 22 June 2011. After being released on bail, he was confiscated his passport for four years, upon completion of which, in 2015 the artist moved to Berlin.

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