Monday, July 30, 2012

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

The city of Chengdu is a significant venue in Alison Klayman’s film about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei,  Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry During the film Ai Weiwei makes a public appearance at a restaurant where he and his associates film police functionaries who are trying film and silence him. Wang Lijun, the chief of police of Chongqing who blew the whistle on the ill-fated Bo Xilai sought refuge in the US consulate in Chengdu and it’s the city where a plant making products for Apple was cited for abuses of factory workers. Thus Chengdu is assuming an almost mythic status, a lesser though more updated Tiananmen Square, where the economic (Apple), political (Bo Xilai) and cultural problems (Ai Weiwei) of modern China coalesce. Ai Weiwei became a controversial figure after he repudiated the 2008 China Olympics and its stadium, the famed  "bird’s nest," which he helped design.  Next came the Szechuan earthquake where he publicized the doublethink which characterized the government’s response to the tragedy involving poorly constructed schools. One of his art works, “Remembering” from the exhibit “So Sorry” which was displayed at the Haus der Kunst in Munich is composed of 9000 backpacks, which memorialize the thousand of students who died. As Klayman portrays him Ai WeiWei is an outsized figure, a master of agit-prop, who produced an exhibition in the year 2000 entitled Fuck Off.  Ai Weiwei has assistants who execute all his works including one which is composed of 100 million porcelain sunflowers. But as portrayed by Klayman, Ai Weiwei is curiously retrograde, a kind of artistic Jerry Rubin or Abby Hoffman (who himself wrote a pamphlet called Fuck the System). If Ai Weiwei didn’t have the opposition of a repressive society, what would the substance of his art be? He’s both a master of the social media, like Twitter, and a product of it. The Chinese government was and is the Larry Gogosian to his Damien Hirst. The film makes Ai Weiwei out to be rather clever. However one wonders if the authorities weren’t one step ahead of him. The movie alludes to how the artist performed a useful function showing how far Chinese society had come (in allowing a controversial figure to gain prominence). Once they’d made their point they quickly levied a huge fine and silenced him. Corinna Beltz’s Gerhard Richter Painting is a film about a totally different artist, an abstractionist whose art eludes any of the political issues that pervade Never Sorry. However, the two films are oddly similar to the extent that they exhibit the modern artist as super media figure and promotor, a maker of commodities who becomes a commodity him or herself. The Chinese have developed enough liberty (at least from the economic point of view) to beg the question of when they will have freedom. That’s the profound question Ai Weiwei’s persona and by proxy Klayman’s film explores.


  1. If Ai Weiwei didn’t have the opposition of a repressive society, what would the substance of his art be?

    veyr smart observation, Frank.

  2. Informative post !! I love to read all your posts !! they are amazing!


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