Monday 26th October 2015Ai Weiwei vs ... Lego?
It seems like Ai Weiwei cannot catch a break lately. First Chinese authorities essentially kidnapped him for 81 days of gruelling interrogation and revoked his passport, and then when they finally returned it to him, he was denied the proper visa by British authorities that would have allowed him to attend his first exhibition of his own work since his passport was revoked years ago.
Eventually the whole mess got straightened out, and he was able to attend the event, but things haven't stayed rosy. Currently in Melbourne, Australia working on a group show about political dissidents, Ai was hoping to construct his portraits of a wide range of jailed and exiled dissidents out of the popular construction toy, Lego. Ai previously held a similar exhibition in Alcatraz Prison, San Francisco just the year before, and was hoping to recreate something similar for the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, but apparently the company shut the project down by informing the museum that its product could not be used for artworks that contained "any political, religious, racist, obscene or defaming statements".
Naturally, Ai was less than pleased about this development. "As a commercial entity, Lego produces and sells toys, movies and amusement parks attracting children across the globe. As a powerful corporation, Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values. Lego's refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination." he said, taking to Instagram to vent his frustrations and call out the corporation.
A Lego spokesman with the unlikely name of Roar Rude Trangbaek was naturally quick to distance the company from the specific issues raised by Mr. Ai, but did comment to the effect that it has always been Lego company policy to refuse bulk sales of Lego to customers who are expected to use the toy in any political works.
"Lego is giving us the definition of what is 'political', and all the big corporations are telling us what to love or hate", Ai tweeted. It does sound a difficult situation from a public relations perspective, but Ai has explained his suspicions about Lego's true motives by mentioning the fact that the company is hoping to build one of their popular Legoland amusement parks in Shanghai, China, and probably don't want to ruffle the feathers of Chinese officials as a result.
Posted on October 26th 2015 on 02:00am
Wednesday 26th August 2015Did a Chinese City Steal the Bean?
One of the most intriguing and visually commanding pieces of public art in Chicago is a 2006 sculpture by Anish Kapoor entitled 'Cloud Gate'. It features a huge ovoid, typically referred to as 'the bean' by locals, which has been constructed out of mirror-quality chrome in order to reflect the clouds and sky above the Windy City. It's one of their most well-known pieces of public art, which makes it all the more galling to Kapoor that it appears a Chinese city has created a public art sculpture that is essentially exactly the same as his. (On the right, top: the original Cloud Gate, and below it, the Chinese knock-off).
The city of Karamay, in northern China, has begun to construct a virtually identical ripoff of Cloud Gate, and remarkably unapologetically. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal's China Real Time blog, Ma Jun, the head of the Karamay Tourism Bureau, said, “The idea of the oil bubble comes from the Black Oil Mountain, which is a natural oil well in Karamay. You can’t say we’re not allowed to build a round sculpture because there already is a round one.” Interestingly enough, Ma refused to name the artist who created their version of the bean, which as of yet appears to have no title.
Kapoor said in a statement, "It seems that in China today it is permissible to steal the creativity of others. I feel I must take this to the highest level and pursue those responsible in the courts. I hope that the Mayor of Chicago will join me in this action. The Chinese authorities must act to stop this kind of infringement and allow the full enforcement of copyright."
Curiously enough, the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, is a typically acerbic - even aggressive - public figure, and yet all he had to say on the subject was, "Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, is what I would say. And if you want to see original artwork like this or like the Bean, you come to Chicago." While that may seem rather blase on the surface, he sort of has a point - it's not too likely that many tourists are going to change their travel plans to China instead of Chicago just because of this plagiarism. But then on the other hand, any artist who has ever had their work misused can immediately attest to how incredibly infuriating it is to see someone else profiting off of your creativity and hard work.
Posted on August 26th 2015 on 03:20pm
Friday 31st July 2015Ai Weiwei's Troubles with Travel
Sometimes, it seems like Ai Weiwei just cannot catch a break. As we discussed recently, he had his passport confiscated back in 2011 when he was arrested by the Chinese government as part of a crackdown on suspected political activists. Ai, who is a vocal critic of the repressive policies of the Communist regime, is admittedly a political activist, in and of itself a brave act within the confines of China. At long last, earlier this year, his passport was finally returned, an apparent victory for the long suffering artist, who missed any number of his own shows and openings due to the effective travel ban. An apparent victory for freedom and cultural expression in China, some humans rights lawyers both in and outside China cautioned that travel may not be actually as simple as having a passport, but the sentiment within the country also appears to be swinging in his favour.
So what sort of a shock would it be to be given freedom of passage by the Chinese government, only to have your visa application rejected by the British government? Extremely unbelievable and frustrating, no doubt. Hoping to visit London in September for the opening of one of his shows, the first outside of China he has been able to attend in 4 years, his application for a six-month visa was rejected and he was granted a mere 20 day business visitor visa.
The grounds for the rejection are almost laughable: some overzealous bureaucrat determined that Ai had failed to disclose a supposed criminal conviction in China - something that is simply flat out wrong. The rejection letter cited a "matter of public record that you have previously received a criminal conviction in China, and you have not declared this”. The problem, of course, is that Ai was never charged, let alone convicted. He was detained on suspicions of a variety of trumped-up charges, which were never actually filed.
Fortunately, as outcry grew, someone higher up the food chain decided to take a hand in the matter: the home secretary herself, Theresa May. Ai was finally granted the full six-month visa he deserved, and received a written apology from May and the Home Office. In a written statement issued, the Home Office said, “The home secretary was not consulted over the decision to grant Mr Ai a one-month visa. She has reviewed the case and has now instructed Home Office officials to issue a full six-month visa. We have written to Mr Ai apologising for the inconvenience caused.”
Enjoy London, Mr. Ai!
Posted on July 31st 2015 on 05:42pm
Wednesday 22nd July 2015Ai Weiwei's Passport Finally Returned
It's been something of a rollercoaster ride for Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei over the past few years. He's launched numerous art exhibitions around the world, had documentaries made about him and his struggles with the Chinese government, and been generally celebrated around the world as a rising star in the art world, but back home, the Chinese authorities have seemed less than enamoured. After being temporarily disappeared back in 2011 by the secret police, questioned repeatedly and subjected to psychological tortures, he was finally released - but without his passport. It was kept by the government to ensure that they could keep an eye on him, and he couldn't flee the country and become an external force for destabilizing the ruling leaders. It was a difficult time for the Communist regime, which was in the middle of a serious crackdown on political activists.
Finally, however, it appears that government sentiment towards Mr. Ai has softened, as today he received it back from the police, as evidenced by the Instagram photo he posted earlier showing the travel document. "When I got it back I felt my heart was at peace. I feel pleased. This was something that needed to be done. I was quite frustrated when my right to travel was taken away but now I feel much more positive about my condition. I think they should have given it back some time ago – and maybe after so many years they understand me better.”
There was a huge outpouring of support on social media as Ai posted his passport selfie, both from within China and around the world. Even some of the Chinese tabloids that are typically pro-Beijing were questioning whether or not it was time to move on from the whole debacle. Curiously, however, this move comes amidst yet another political crackdown throughout China, both regarding human rights and other political activism.
Unfortunately, as a prominent human rights attorney noted on Twitter, "“Congratulations Mr Ai Weiwei on getting your passport back. But having a passport doesn’t mean you can get out of China freely." The Chinese government is notoriously strict about controlling the movements of its citizens in and out of the country, but it seems that Mr. Ai will likely be granted his wish. Congratulations!
Posted on July 22nd 2015 on 04:17pm
Wednesday 29th April 2015Thievery or Idiocy?
When you hear about a painting mysteriously disappearing, it's generally pretty safe to assume that the piece was stolen - especially when it's just been listed and sold by an auction house for over £2.2 million. Art theft is a major problem in the industry, and while it's not exactly a new wrinkle, there are those who are naturally extremely frustrated by the possibility of having their new and incredibly expensive purchase lifted out by a five-finger discount.
In this case, however, the story is a bit more ridiculous than a dashing, debonair gentleman cat burglar (or even a dodgy group of backstabbing thieves). The painting in question is entitled Snowy Mountain (shown to the right), painted in 2012 by Chinese artist Cui Ruzhuo, who also happens to be one of (if not *the*) highest-fetching Chinese artists still living, and while it wasn't exactly stolen, as far as police can yet determine, it has definitely disappeared from the Grand Hyatt hotel where it was being sold on the block. The bizarre wrinkle became apparent when police took the standard precaution of reviewing the CCTV footage of the time in question.
Quite clearly, it shows cleaning staff collecting the painting and absconding with it, which has lead police to consider the possibility that it has now taken up residence in one of the city's landfill sites. While the Grand Hyatt has neither confirmed nor denied the possibility that their cleaning staff are responsible for the theft / mix-up, it has stated that hotel staff aren't supposed to have anything to do with the auction items, as their value is quite extreme, and that private companies often provide their own security and custodial staff.
Poly Culture, the company which hosted the auction, is also the third-largest auction house in the world behind Christie's and Sotheby's when ranked by revenue, and was hosting the auction in Hong Kong. Awkwardly, this is their very first sale following an initial public offering earlier this year, adding some additional major embarrassment to the mess. This does make it seem more likely that they were being targeted as being unprepared by some extremely prepared thieves, but there is no evidence yet that suggests this was the case. Only time will tell if the painting is ever recovered, but who knows what will happen to Poly Culture's stock price after a huge gaffe like this.
Posted on April 29th 2015 on 12:53pm
Friday 05th September 2014The Waking Dragon: China's Art Market
Art markets around the world have been undergoing some major shifts lately, as we've discussed at numerous points in this ongoing reflection of the art world we call a blog. Whether you are outraged at ridiculously high auction prices, happy about the emerging popularity of art fairs, or worried that the markets are on the edge of a bursting bubble, we're in the midst of extremely interesting times on both the global and local scales. The global side of things may be about to experience another shakeup thanks to a new initiative announced recently in Beijing, where China's rapid industrialization has spawned a new class of affluent citizens who are hungry for artwork.
China has a long and troubled history with the trading of artwork and antiquities, largely due to the plundering that happened during British colonialism and the Cultural Revolution, and this has made for some heavy taxes levied on sales of artwork. Import duties are quite steep, and the value-added tax on any sales made from China can dramatically add to the purchase price of artworks, to the tune of roughly 23%. When you consider a 23% tax on a transaction already in the millions, it's easy to see why the time for the Beijing Culture Free Port has arrived.
The idea is to establish a series of warehouses and offices within the free port, expressly for the purpose of facilitating the sale of artwork for both Chinese collectors and foreign buyers. Artwork purchases by Chinese nationals can be stored with the confines of the free port, and are then excempted from any duties that would otherwise be levied. The pieces can then, in turn, be sold from the same location without having the value-added tax applied. Additionally, a Sotheby's Auction House office will be established within the free port, further enhancing the desirability of the project.
To celebrate the launch of the Free Port initiative, which is currently still under construction (although at the rate Chinese industry is operating recently, it won't be long before it's fully operational), the first annual Beijing International Fine Art Fair will be held this October, featuring among other works a collection of paintings by the European master Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Beijing is currently home to nearly 80% of the entire art market in China, and with the addition of the Beijing Culture Free Port, it is likely to become the go-to location for much of Asia.
Posted on September 05th 2014 on 05:12pm
Tuesday 01st April 2014Chinese Protest Art
China is in a very strange position these days - despite being home to one of the oldest recorded civilizations in the world, and having a rich cultural heritage steeped in artistic traditions, they are also host to one of the most repressive political regimes on the planet. Internet services are carefully censored and monitored by a system known as 'the Great Firewall of China', and political and artistic statements are discouraged by the ruling Communist party. But even as this repression continues - and perhaps, to some extent, even because of it - there are a number of active Chinese artists who have captured international attention and highlighted the interplay between protest and art in a stifled intellectual climate.
By now, most art enthusiasts have heard the name of Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist who has been the subject of documentary films (such as Never Sorry, as we discussed in a previous post) and invited to galleries around the world, all while being persecuted by the Chinese government, but there are a quite a number of lesser-known artists who are equally interesting.
Intellectual climates aren't the only thing being stifled in China, as the staggeringly rapid growth of the economy and industry has left the natural environment struggling to support healthy living conditions. Choking smog is a daily fact of life in most major urban centers in China, and this fact was recently driven home by Beijing-based artist Liang Kegang. Having visited the south of France on business, he brought back several souvenirs - one of which was a jar of clean, clear air from Provence. Amusingly enough, he put the jar up for auction at a popular art auction house, and the jar sold for over 5000 yuan - nearly £500 - to a collector.
Giving an interview about the piece, Liang said, “Air should be the most valueless commodity, free to breathe for any vagrant or beggar. This is my way to question China’s foul air and express my dissatisfaction.” Perhaps not quite the grand gesture he was hoping for, but it's just one of a number of similar art-meets-protest projects that have been popping up all over China in recent years with a focus on climate problems. A performance art project in Beijing in February had 20 artists playing dead outside the Temple of Heaven, all wearing dust masks. Another performance piece in Changsha had artists hosting a mock funeral for the last living citizen of Changsha, who they claimed would die of the smog.
Perhaps most surreal of all? Anyone who ever watched the late 80's movie Spaceballs, starring Mel Brooks and Rick Moranis, will recall a scene where the president cracks open a can of 'Perri-air', fresh air in can form - now, 'Good Person' brand cans of clean air can be purchased online in China from TaoBao for under £2. Sometimes, life really does imitate art.
Posted on April 01st 2014 on 01:06am
Saturday 07th December 2013Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
We've been spending a lot of time on this blog helping you get things sorted out when it comes to your Gallereo page. Tips for setting your pages up to sell, how to manage work and life and art, and all sorts of things like that - but there's one thing we've been neglecting lately in our own posts: the art! So despite the title, we're sorry about that. Today, let's step away from the minutiae of how to go about selling your own work, and look at some of the artwork that's happening in the world around us. To that end, we're going to look at the documentary 'Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry', the brainchild of young filmmaker Alison Klayman, featuring the Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei.
The film, which was initially released in 2012, won a special jury prize at the famous Sundance Festival, and was the premier film at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto in the same year. It chronicles the struggles of Mr. Ai against the oppressive Chinese government, while showcasing a number of his exhibits that have been featured in major galleries around the world, including the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany, and the Tate Modern in London, England. Even as Mr. Ai's artwork is highlighted, the skill with which Ms. Klayman handles the entire documentary is equally impressive.
Strong critical reception of the documentary has also raised Mr. Ai's profile in the art world, and shed light on the violently oppressive practices that are still a hallmark of life in modern China. If you haven't seen the film yet, you're strongly urged to go see it - especially when you find yourself stuck in a bit of a creative slump. The trials and tribulations that have completely enmeshed Mr. Ai and fuelled his creative expressions are an inspiration to all of us; if he can find the strength to keep creating in an environment as hostile as that one, then perhaps there's some hope for even the most blocked of us. In his case, his creativity is born out of the desire for social change, but that's the message he needs to spread in light of the current social climate of his homeland.
Posted on December 07th 2013 on 10:23pm