Ai Weiwei Tops Power Poll

But the Chinese government says choice is more political than artistic.
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Outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei waves to reporters outside his studio in Beijing, June 23, 2011.
Outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei waves to reporters outside his studio in Beijing, June 23, 2011.

A British art magazine has named prominent Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei the "most powerful" world artist, sparking a barbed response from Beijing.

Ai, who is still under considerable restrictions at his Beijing home following his release from 81 days in detention in June, claimed the top spot on ArtReview's 10th annual "Power 100" list on Thursday.

Ai's detention drew criticism from the United States, Australia, Britain, France, and Germany, as well as from Amnesty International and other international rights groups.

At the time, Beijing hit back at the campaign to release Ai, whose work became known internationally after he collaborated on the design of the Bird's Nest Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

On Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said the choice of Ai by ArtReview was more political than artistic.

"China has many artists who have sufficient ability," Liu told reporters.

"We feel that a selection that is based purely on a political bias and perspective has violated the objectives of the magazine," he said.

'Privileged zone'

But ArtReview editor Mark Rappolt denied that politics had played a part in the selection of Ai, who is best-known in Britain for his Tate Modern exhibition of millions of ceramic sunflower seeds.

A statement on the magazine's website said: "A i... was ranked number one as a result of his activism as much as his art practice—both articulating a move away from the idea that artists work within a privileged zone limited by the walls of a gallery or museum."

U.S.-based Chinese dissident and commentator Liu Nianchun said the poll would send a message about freedom of expression.

"In today's society, politics and art can never be separated," Liu said. "There will always be places where they intersect."

He said Ai's way of expressing himself is unprecedented in Chinese culture.

"He uses huge forms to express his art and his sensibility," Liu said. "The choice of Ai Weiwei sends the message that expression is free, and that people who express themselves should not suffer oppression."

Cultural commentator Dong Dingshan said Ai's influence extends to the political arena, however.

"From an artistic point of view, Ai Weiwei is not a great artist," Dong said. "His work is done for China, and he got famous because the Chinese government put him in jail."

"Of course that means now that he is very influential," Dong said. "The Chinese government has turned him ... into the most influential person in the art world."

'Economic crimes'

Beijing released Ai pending trial for "economic crimes," having secured a promise from him to repay a large sum of money the government says is due in taxes, official media reported at that time.

Ai had been investigated "according to law" under charges of suspected economic crimes, and a company it linked to him, the Beijing Fake Cultural Development Co., had been found to have engaged in deliberate tax evasion amounting to very large sums, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Rights groups however believe he was held as part of a wider clampdown on activists following online calls in February for a "Jasmine" revolution inspired by uprisings in the Middle East.

Currently, Ai is immersed in his art projects, giving art direction via Skype for a series of fashion photos for U.S.-based W magazine, according to recent media reports.

Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Comments (1)

Anonymous Reader

The top consideration for the CCP has always been whether an individual helps or hinders one-party authoritarian rule, not whether their art is good or not. Because Ai Weiwei has challenged the legality and reasonableness of one-party authoritarian rule, the CCP deems him to be a "bad element" and has felt free to kidnap him and punish him in communicado. The CCP has always been above and beyond the law in the PRC. The Party has never bothered to register as a legal organization even though it requires all other organizations to register.

Oct 16, 2011 07:22 PM





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