Skip to content

Ai Weiwei Interlacing @ Jeu de Paume

March 6, 2012

This is for sure not the most original artist you can find around, but maybe one of the most significant. His art is about documentation, provocation, relationship, displacement, irony, criticism, body language, contamination etc. It embraces all the features of contemporary conceptual art that refuses any kind of aesthetic and handcrafts. Pictures are made with a third class camera and most of them look like amateur’s shots. Projects like “Study on perspective” or “Provisional landscapes” are less surprising series of pictures that could have been put together by any talented art student. His naked self portraits in some hotel’s bathroom are less original than Scarlett Johanson’s ominous picture. Architectural articles posted on his blog could be easily filed as amateur’s rethoric. Handcrafted sunflower seeds are made by chinese craftsmen.

On the other hand on Wednesday afternoon there was a significant queue to enter his small photographic exhibition on the top floor of the Jeu de Paume. Not any to visit the famous for the Nymphéas of Claude Monet at the Orangerie nearby. Why is this artist so celebrated? Of course China is cool, but a lot of good chinese artists have been brought to the european market in the last twenty years, and none has gained the reputation of Ai Weiwei. Being under arrest by the Chinese authorities in 2010 brought him a lot of additional fame and gave him the opportunity to quit with the blog that was getting a monster and switch to twitter, more uptodate and less time consuming. But is it really all about media? I think media have a great part in this story, but there is also something more in the eyes of the chinese artist, something that remains the same from 1983 untill today.

Ai Weiwei. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 1983 C-print © Ai Weiwei

Son of a celebrated chinese poet, graduated at the Beijing Film Academy, in 1983 Ai Weiwei grabbed the chance to move to New York to study at the Parson’s School for Design. There he discovered Allen Ginsberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and the godfather of this generation of artists: Marcel Duchamp. Never mind about western compulsive originality Ai Weiwei has covered the whole way of one century of contemporary art in a few years. In the meanwhile he remained angry and foolish enough to exploit the potentials of photography, video, performance, installation, curatorial work, architecture, blogging and all kind of media to satisfy his artistic urge.

Profile of Duchamp, Sunflower Seeds, 1983 C-print © Ai Weiwei

Already before his experience in the United States Ai Weiwei refused the mainstream chinese art devoted to realism. His early works are black and white photographs with hand written chinese and english caption, nothing more than the souvenirs from an unknown world sent by a young artist from a communist country, in a time when China wasn’t cool at all. Seen with today’s eyes the pictures of the different currencies on the desk of an exchange boot (unfortunately not in the press kit ) are the inception of a still ongoing process of exchange between the chinese and the western civilisation that attracts masses of visitors in his art exhibitions and performances.

Ai Weiwei, June 2010 © Ai Weiwei

4 Comments leave one →
  1. robbycowell permalink
    March 6, 2012 11:27 am

    nice post. I more or less agree that he’s not such a great artist and it is the media’s attention that causes him to be so well known. He’s just controversial and the media love it.

  2. March 6, 2012 12:02 pm

    Hi Robby, thanks for your comment. I do not want to say he is not a great artist (who can tell?), I am trying to understand what is behind his controversial way. Media and art business like brands. Are they using Aiweiwei or is he using them?

  3. March 8, 2012 1:48 pm

    Reblogged this on Espacio de MANON.


  1. Wang Shu Awarded 2012 Pritzker Prize « Well Designed and Built

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: