Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist and political activist who has been named the most influential artist alive. A retrospective of his work has been touring the U.S., and his name is constantly in the news (whether for his art, his run-ins with Chinese authorities, or his internet memes). While his activism has earned him international acclaim, it tends to overshadow his art; in this episode, we focus on looking closely at three of his major works, in order to understand the importance of his choices as an artist (and not only as an activist).
Check out the Slideshow below for images that we mention in the episode. Scroll down further for our Postscript (stuff that didn't make it into the episode), in which Tina discusses the meaning of the term "avant-garde." At the bottom of the page, you'll find News Updates on this story and Links to other sites for more information. Enjoy!
Tina: In terms of the art historical context for Ai Weiwei’s work, I think the most obvious idea that he’s engaging with is the twentieth-century avant-garde notion of erasing the distinction between art and life. In the twentieth century, there were different philosophies regarding art's higher purpose; one of these is known as “art for art’s sake,” which argued that art offered us a retreat from the dirty, messy world of everyday life. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, there was a movement we usually term the "avant-garde" (associated with groups like the Dadaists and the Futurists) that said that, to the contrary, art should be taken off its pedestal and should become embedded in--and maybe even indistinguishable from--everyday life. The ultimate goal was for art to not simply shape the way we see reality, but to change that reality. In other words, the avant-garde collapse of art into life is profoundly political, and Ai Weiwei is somebody who takes this long heritage that runs throughout the twentieth century and brings it in to the twenty-first.
Brooklyn Museum: Ai Weiwei: According to What?
Ai Wewei: Never Sorry on Netflix
Ai Weiwei's banned parody of "Gangnam Style"
Anish Kapoor/Amnesty International's "Gangnam for Freedom"
Jed Perl, "Noble and Ignoble: Ai Weiwei: Wonderful dissident, terrible artist," The New Republic
Ai Weiwei installation at Alcatraz Island
February 18: Nick Madigan, "Ai Weiwei Vase is Destroyed by Protester at Miami Museum," The New York Times
June 17: Ai Weiwei sparks "leg gun" photo craze, BBC News
August 22: Ai Weiwei stars in short film, "The Sandstorm"
Sept. 18: Ai Weiwei takes his work to a prison, New York Times