Tag Archives: Art and Design

Tonight on Frontline: Ai Weiwei

Just a note to remember that tonight marks the debut of the abbreviated version of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a biopic/documentary about one of China’s most internationally prominent artists. Rumor has it that video will be available online soon after.

The film has been the recent work of Alison Klayman and others. I posted links to trailer video previously. I was happy to get a chance to catch up briefly with Ali in New York over the weekend, just back from finalizing the Frontline version in Boston. Very glad to see this coming out!

In other Ai Weiwei news (new to me at least), some of his images in which he shows a finger to iconic locations are on display in the photography section of the Museum of Modern Art. After the jump, an image I made, and Ai Weiwei’s response on Twitter. (Not safe for very conservative workplaces.)

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The fate of the UCCA art space in 798

Early today I put a new header image at the top of this site. It’s cropped from a picture of an artist working on a grand installation in the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, a gallery/museum in Beijing’s 798 art district. A few hours later, I heard the ambitious project was coming to a sort of end after its opening in late 2007.

The folks at RedBox have the story:

The Belgian foodstuffs baron Guy Ullens is to hand over the management of his contemporary art gallery in Beijing to “long-term partners” and divest himself of the institution.

He will also sell in stages the extensive collection of Chinese contemporary art amassed with his wife Myriam, with the first 106 pieces to be auctioned by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on 3 April.

Once he has done this, he says he intends to spend more time on his charitable education work in Nepal and return to collecting young artists, with his focus now on Indian rather than Chinese artists. [more]

I promise this was a coincidence, and so I will leave the image here for a while as a tribute to an interesting, at times troubled, and ongoing project.

A Literary Note: Benjamin Hale, Alexandra Kleeman, and LEAP

It’s been a good few months for my more literary friends. Most recently, an old friend Ben Hale (website, blog) has published his first novel and received very good reviews, including in the New York Times Book Review. I was lucky enough to read The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore in proofs, and that copy is still floating around in Beijing. I’ll let the reviewers give their un-biased view of the thing, but I thought it was fantastic. If you tend to follow the advice of The New Yorker on literary matters, you might find yourself reading it as part of their “book club” this month. Enjoy.

As if to taunt me with the potential glory of literary merit, another good friend from Boulder, Colorado, has published a debut short story in The Paris Review, one that has received favorable rumblings in the literary blogosphere.

Alexandra Kleeman is known to me as a source of originality in insight and wit, and her story gives us some of that depth. I’m with everyone else who patiently awaits her next offerings.

Finally, though it’s not fiction, I recently received a great piece of mail from Beijing via California: the new issue of LEAP 艺术界, a new English–Chinese bilingual magazine on the Chinese art world that has several friends working on it. Among them are Philana Woo (advertising) and Angie Baecker (contributing editor). Angie was the brains behind a co-written article she and I did previewing the Beijing art scene during the olympics, and her insights have only grown. The magazine also has a new website.

My magazine package also included a very cool branded Moleskine notebook, which I will be using to bring order to the chaos of my life in the near future.

Some time I’ll show these kids how great it can be to do more boring serious publishing.

Documentary on Ai Weiwei’s New York (20-minute video)

I never got around to noting the exciting future release of Alison Klayman’s documentary on the life of artist Ai Weiwei, though far more prominent writers did. But today I found just a taste of her work from an exhibition last year of Ai’s photographs while living in New York between 1983 and 1993. The 20-minute documentary describes the process of winnowing down 10,000 photographs to less than 250, and features Ai’s reflections on his time there, as well as his working process with curator Stephanie Tung. The Three Shadows co-founder Rong Rong also describes the urge to open for the first time Ai’s box of negatives from New York. (Both Alison and Stephanie are friends of mine, but I would note this nonetheless.)

Here’s the documentary, and check out Ali’s other work on her site. Also available are versions of the doc with Chinese and English subtitles. See also a short video posted on The New Yorker‘s website.

[[Edit: Apparently I can’t embed this video here. Click here for the video on her site, or here for the video on Vimeo.]]

When the U.S. Wants to Criticize 'Chinese Art'

In The New Republic, Jed Perl exercises no economy of words in lambasting art from China and its growing global following. Based on a reading of “Chinese art” that does not apparently leave the island of Manhattan, Perl makes several questionable statements, often abetted by lack of knowledge, and Alan Baumler at Frog in a Well has already taken some of them to task.

I find some solace in Perl’s admission that: “This is not to say that there is nothing of value going on in China today: I do not know all there is to know about art in China. What I do know is that the work that is being promoted around the world as the cutting edge of new Chinese art is overblown and meretricious.” Fine, but this comes only after hundreds of words of under-informed negativity and no apparent experience with Chinese art that hasn’t arrived in New York or Venice.

Missing from Perl’s account is the pervasive sense of unease among many in Beijing’s art scene, both Chinese and foreign, as they have watched the transformation of spaces such as the 798 Art District into pedestrian mall commercial centers, and as they have watched some of the artists Perl criticizes grow their bank accounts with manufactured art.

That’s one of the things Angie Baecker and I tried to capture with our article in the current issue (No. 59) of Art Asia Pacific. We examined the plans and sentiments of some major art spaces and figures in Beijing leading up to the Olympics. And we found a mixture of excitement and trepidation, sometimes with both sentiments coming from the same person.

Totally unexamined by Perl, for instance, are the artists whose work rarely if ever engages political and nationalist issues. And others who openly criticize the government and the country’s history, even if with a certain care to avoid publicity that could threaten their livelihood. Then there’s Ai Weiwei, both involved with and vocally opposed to the Olympics. In the classic media formulation, his contributions to the design of the Olympic stadium are tempered by his criticism of the government. (“The Olympics are an opportunity to redefine the country, but the message is always wrong,” Ai says in our article.)

I would not discount the possibility that some of Ai’s repeated statements have been motivated by a desire for publicity. But for those who make their commentaries in private and whose art-with-message works face government scrutiny, the spotlight is neither welcomed nor sought.

Criticizing a country’s art without engaging even well-reported examples that don’t support one’s criticism is an art world example of the basic structure of [insert country]-bashing: Find some well-accepted tropes about the target country that are well-reported but unconfirmed by the critic, and then use them as the basis of an argument that makes no effort to engage the actual thoughts or facts of life of those involved.

Could it be that a critic writing in a derivative way in the milieu of China-bashing is just as guilty as artists who profit from market-friendly, easily digestible political messages?