玩笑恶作剧学者 艾未未


RT @Clemson_Wang: @aiww The Clown Scholar Ai Weiwei 这名字起得太好了。文中有句好玩的:“当问起艾未未为什么摔掉汉代的瓶子,他说只是为了看看重力的作用。”
1:18 PM Aug 5th

http://www.artzinechina.com/display_vol_aid180.html
艾未未:“荒诞”学者
By David Barboza and Lynn Zhang

北京:

外墙面为裸砖的工作室和四合院样式的连体别墅,这片由观念艺术家和建筑师艾未未在北京大山子艺术区附近为麦勒画廊修建展厅和工作室被漆成了漂亮的浅灰色。 建筑的外表线条和内部装修简约之至。空旷,开放,干净,洁白,具有颠覆性。

屋内,准备好接受长时间采访的艾未未显得平静而温和。他的身后是一张来人难以视而不见的原创海报:画面的中心被一根巨大的、缠着绷带的中指占据,它粗鲁地 竖起,仿佛在挑衅权威们来扳倒它。另一面墙上,是他1985年的作品《小提琴》:一个铁铲的手柄被移植到一把小提琴身上(小提琴为上流社会的象征)。

屋内另一处,艾未未挂了一组他自己捧着一个有两千年历史的汉代花瓶,然后把它摔碎的照片。还有一本他写的书——《不合作方式》,以及一些1990 年代的先锋艺术作品。在邻近的小工作室里,一张经过他艺术化的重组和架构的清代木桌仿佛证明了这个居室的主人确有能力颠覆历史和传统:处理后的木桌两条腿 接地,另两条腿顶着墙。

这就是艾未未的工作:质问权威,颠覆传统或经典,并将当下消费主义时代的符号融于旧世界的物品之中。“我不确定自己是否擅长艺术,但我从中得到解脱,”这 个四十九岁的留着小胡子的健壮艺术家说,“这是一种释放自己的方式。”
  
艾未未用不着谦虚。他已经是公认的中国当代艺术的领头人及最有创造力的思想者之一,一个被专家们认为推动了中国现代艺术发展的人。他是最早一批摈弃苏联写 实主义和“文革”宣传风格的艺术家之一,也是最早质疑领袖标准像的人之一。1970年代晚期,他是著名的,抑或是无名的“星星画会“的成员,这是一群通过 在中国美术馆展示激进艺术作品而扬名艺术界的自学成材的艺术家。在漫长的旅居纽约生活之后,他于1990年代回到北京,组建了一个实验性的,类似纽约艺术 家天堂东村的社区。后来,就是在这里,产生了令人震惊的行为艺术和激进绘画、摄影以及装置作品。

今天,艾未未不仅成为了中国最知名的艺术家之一,也是一位广受赞誉的建筑设计师。受聘于瑞士Herzog& de Meuron建筑公司, 他参与设计了耗资3亿7千5百万美金的2008年北京奥运会场馆——鸟巢。他自己的艺术作品也供不应求,他的那幅著名的,从寺庙中抢救出来的木刻《中国地 图》在索斯比拍得22.8万美元。

一些批评家称艾未未的作品,比如他的摄影,是对政府或权威的肤浅的政治抨击。但是《纽约时报》的艺术评论人Holland Carter却称艾未未的作品“发人深省”,或许这其中有被某些人讥笑为“学者型的小丑”的东西。

中国当代艺术的两大收藏家管艺和前瑞士驻华大使Uli Sigg称艾未未是个天才。“他深谙中西方文化,并且熟知中国传统,而且不断地在这两个世界之间周旋,” Sigg先生在一次采访中说道,“他常常采用一些看似简单但其实复杂的创作主体和创作方法,他拥有丰富而智慧的艺术表现手法。”

艾未未的北京工作室已经成为收藏家、艺术基金会和国外知名美术馆的访问者们常到之处。前德国总理Gerhard Schroeder也名列访客名单。他也是Uli Sigg创办的中国当代艺术奖的评委之一。他的画廊“中国艺术文件仓库” 正在和瑞士鲁塞恩的麦勒画廊(Galerie Urs Meile)合作,展示中国那些最具探索精神的前卫艺术家的作品。

在当代艺术不被看好,展览时常被叫停的现实条件下,艾未未拥有凡人所没有的勇气,他质疑政府,敢面对任何权威,以用解构传统的方式去创造现代艺术为乐。而 有时他的创造似乎仅仅源于一时兴起。当问及他的那一组自己手持唐代花瓶然后又将其摔碎的摄影深意何在,他冲记者答道:“用来证明重力原理是有效的。”

艾未未的腔调有时就是这样——机灵,半真半假,轻浮——然后谦虚。

听了艾未未的故事之后,听众或许会得出这样的结论:一切都是巧合,是时代和历史的巧合使他有了今天。他似乎在说,他和他的家人跟随着历史波澜的移动而伫足 于一个幸运时期。在多年搜寻创意的旅程后,艾未未发现自己已经置身于一场席卷中国的艺术旋风的中央。

“现在的事越来越奇怪,越来越疯狂,”他说,“每天都有大艺术馆和基金会的人、作家、摄影师和导演来我这儿,他们都急切地想知道中国发生着什么,”他说, “你根本无法想象——都是这些人,他们连长城都不去,他们就来这儿。”

艾青之子:

艾未未出生于“反右运动”开始的1957年。在允许知识分子对政治进行批评后不久,政府对洪水般的批评失去了耐心而不堪其扰,开始将知识分子划为“右 派”,或谓“国家的敌人”。很多人锒铛入狱或被下放劳动。

艾未未的父亲——著名诗人艾青——成为这次运动的首批受害人之一。他被驱逐出北京城,先后被送到黑龙江和新疆省的劳改农场。

“他那时候是国家的公敌,人民的敌人。我小时候就是一个国家敌人的儿子,”直至今天,艾未未在他北京的工作室里依然激愤难平,“他当时扫厕所,全家生活条 件差到难以想象的地步,但这就是国家走过的路。”

艾未未在讲述自己的成长故事时,一次又一次回到多年前的往事,回忆起他父亲在流放期间的悲惨遭遇,以及他的愤怒。

艾未未出生时,他的父亲艾青是这个国家最知名的诗人之一。艾青于上世纪30年代在巴黎学过画,他的代表作《大堰河》问世于1936年日军占领期间。他曾经 被蒋介石和国民党关过监狱,后来又进过共产党的监狱。他的命运随着国家政治的变化而坎坷起伏。

“我父亲出席了1942年的延安文艺座谈会,还拍了照片留念,”艾未未说道,“那会儿,艺术和文学都很简单,任何事情你不是支持就是反对。所以文学就是阶 级斗争,你可能会为一句话而丧命。”

在新疆生活了九年之后,艾未未一家又被送到戈壁沙漠去劳改。据艾未未回忆,在那五年时间里,他父亲的唯一工作就是打扫厕所。这个激励了好几代作家的伟大诗 人还险些被打死。

转机在1970年代到来。据说,当时一位国外友人向周恩来询问了关于艾青的境况。不久,艾青被批准回到北京他自己的住所。1978年他被平反,重新提笔写 作,直到去世。

东村, 纽约和北京:

艾未未在1970年代和家人一起回到了北京。在看过他的绘画和素描的父辈的鼓
励下,艾未未开始从事艺术创作。

1976年,大学恢复招生。艾未未克服重重困难拿到了两所国内顶尖大学的录取通知书:北京电影学院和中央美术学院,他选择了电影学院。当时的同学中有张艺 谋和陈凯歌。然而他的电影学习之路却中断了。

“在学了两年之后,我感觉非常无聊。我们刚进学校时都很兴奋,但我后来却非常不开心,”他说,“我们国家刚刚经历了一段没有人权的黑暗时代,突然在一夜之 间,人们开始大谈‘四个现代化’,却没人反思刚刚过去的事情。我非常失望。”

在那段时间,艾未未加入了由一群挑战传统艺术观的艺术家组成的“星星画会”,这个由雕塑家王克平领头的团体于1979年在北京的中国美术馆的台阶上举办展 览,他们的展览立刻在国内外引起了轰动。

人们说这是对以往艺术的巨大冲击。伴随这次艺术运动而生的,还有北京的“民主墙”,一个青年人表达自我、发表理想的地方。后来,有关部门撤销了“民主 墙”,当历史倒退到控制言论自由的时候,艾未未在他女朋友家人的帮助下,得以赴美国留学。

1981年他去了加利福尼亚的伯克利。不久,他通过了英语考试,移居纽约市,在那里,他进入了帕森设计学院(Parson’s School of Design)和艺术学生联盟(the Art Students League)。

他说,在纽约期间,他潜心研究了达达主义,贾斯珀•琼斯,安迪•沃霍尔和马塞尔•杜尚。然而他又一次辍学了。在纽约的十二年中,他花了大量时间轧马路、看 展览、逛书店,他还兼职做过保姆、建筑工人、画匠等,他同时从事实验艺术并尝试组建一个知识分子的生活区。

“我们这一代几乎没有人浪费时间,”他说,“他们要么想拿个文凭,要么想进入主流。他们都想成为有用的人,但这种念头从来没有占据过我的大脑。”

在纽约,他和一个寂寞的纽约诗人Allen Ginsberg 成了好朋友,后者是1960年代美国反战运动的一面旗帜,经常在东村的圣马可教堂朗诵自己的诗歌。那时艾未未住在靠近Tompkins Square Park的公寓,那里在某种程度上成了谭盾、徐冰和陈凯歌等年轻中国艺术家和知识分子的据点。

“我住的地方成了城东的根据地,”他笑道,“当时我的电话自动答录机的录音是:‘东边是正确的(East is Right)’。”

据艾未未称,他在纽约时几乎什么都不做。他把自己的作品拿给Allen Ginsberg看,对方表示怀疑有哪家画廊会展出它们。在聚会上,一旦他自称艺术家,旁人就会嗤之以鼻。而且自从他退学之后,他已经成为非法居留者。

1985年,他终于有机会参加了由 Ethan Cohen画廊举办的展览。其中的一件作品是,他将一件大号雨衣挂在衣帽架上,并将一个避孕套拴在雨衣的口袋处。

他说,在那个年代德国表现主义和巴斯奎特相当流行。他的事业几乎没有开始。

1989年6月学潮使他极其愤怒。他在纽约进行了八天的绝食静坐以示抗议。他同时加入了一个名叫“团结中国”的组织。他说,可笑的是,他因此而告别了非法 身份,拿到了绿卡,得以名正言顺地留在美国。

1993年在听亲戚说父亲病倒之后,他回了国。他说他其实不想回家——因为有种失败的感觉。

“1993年,当我回到家,我妈都不好意思问我的情况。我没有文凭,连本科都不是,几乎没有钱,没有财产,没有结婚。但是我还是回来了,因为我爸爸病了。 十二年了,我从来没有回来过,甚至没写过信。”

父亲在艾未未回家三年之后的1996年去世,享年八十六岁。

“毕加索”回家:

回家后,艾未未重返艺术圈。他组建了一个艺术家的生活区,借纽约东村之名,号称北京“东村”。他开始和艺术家共事,出版关于他们作品的地下刊物,取名叫 “黑皮书”、“白皮书”、“灰皮书”等等。

在一组摄影作品当中,他对着一组国家纪念堂竖起中指,包括:华盛顿的白宫、北京天安门、柏林议会大楼和巴黎埃菲尔铁塔。

在记录马六明和张洹等他所欣赏的艺术家的同时,艾未未开始推出自己的作品。有大胆的照片、超现实主义的雕塑和大型装置,比如他那灵动而精密的永动车装置。

在他的早期作品中,同样著名的还有一张他妻子路青的照片。照片中,路青俨如一个“暴露狂”,她在天安门的毛主席像面前撩起裙子,一个残疾人坐在轮椅上盯着 她看。时值1994年6月。

他还创作了看起来很简单的摄影系列,比如《七个像框》,一组关于一个北京军区警卫员的七张照片。每一张表现了他身体的一个部分,从头到脚。这个相当僵硬的 军人具备所有权威的特征:从严肃的表情到整洁的装束。在最后一张照片里,如策展人巫鸿所指出的,他的右脚鞋带松了。

这张照片,如同艾未未的许多作品一样,意在取笑权威,揭露官僚主义,解构权威和传统——正如摔碎古董花瓶,用可口可乐商标装饰一个汉朝的瓮,或者为石器时 代的泥罐刷上“沃霍尔颜色”,使之重获生机。

2000年上海双年展期间,艾未未与冯博一一起在上海莫干山东廊画廊策展了众所周知的展览“不合作方式”。该展览因为充满超前卫的展品(其中一件是由两个 死婴组成的装置作品)而在开展当天即被关闭。为报道双年展而来的西方记者蜂拥而至,艾未未因此声名大噪。

艾未未说自1999年之后,中国开放了很多,表现之一就是北京和上海的当代艺术市场的红火。目前只有那些最直白地表达政见的作品——比如描绘天安门广场事 件——才会遭禁或被没收。

至今,艾未未尚未在中国举办过个展。他的绝大多数作品在美国和欧洲展示过。他说,还有很多东西要改变或重新考量。中国还不是一个自由的社会,他说。

“哪怕是今天,很多重要的政治真相仍被掩盖,”他说,“对我而言,这难以置信。我想社会为此付出巨大的代价。”

现在,艾未未说他正忙着做一个建筑项目。对于建筑学,他基本上是自学的,但他说这并不是很难。据他的欧洲代理人和麦勒画廊的创始人乌斯麦勒(Urs Meile)介绍,他目前正在设计一个2万1千平方英尺的生活型艺术画廊。他每天与艺术家会面,同时坚持他一贯的事业——创作先锋艺术作品,还有就是和其 他艺术名流一样——惹麻烦。起初他暗示,这一切都是意外,但随后他说得更透彻了些,他说,他的确有意要做一个打破常规的人。

“当我离开中国(去美国)时,我对我妈说,‘我回家去了’,她八成寻思着,‘我的傻儿子,’” “我说,十年之后,你会看见另一个毕加索。”“我当时说错了,应该是二十年之后。”他咧嘴一笑。

译/熊敏

http://www.artzinechina.com/display_vol_aid180_en.html
The Clown Scholar: Ai Weiwei

By David Barboza and Lynn Zhang
he brick faced studio and courtyard complex tha
t the conceptual artist and architect Ai Wei Wei built near Beijing’s Dashanzi Arts district, is painted a beautiful light grey. The building’s lines and contours are simple and minimalist. And so is its interior. Airy. Open. Clean. White. And subversive.

Inside, Ai Weiwei appears quiet and gentle as he sits down for a lengthy interview. But over his shoulder, one cannot help but notice a poster he created, which features a large, bandaged middle finger, vulgarly sticking up, basically telling the Chinese authorities to shove it. On a nearby wall is his 1985 art piece, “Violin,” in which the handle of a shovel (symbol of the workman) is grafted onto the body of a violin (symbol of the elite).

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Elsewhere, Ai Weiwei has hung photographs of himself holding, and then smashing to pieces, a 2,000-year-old Han Dynasty vase. There is also his book, “Fuck Off,” a collection of avant-garde art works from the 1990s. And in a small workshop nearby, there is a Qing Dynasty table that the artist has artfully reassembled and reconfigured to demonstrate that he can literally turn tradition — and history — upside down. Two of the legs, in his version, are grounded on the floor; two others stand up against a wall.

This is what Ai Weiwei does: He questions authority, defaces traditional or classical objects, savages pieties and fuses old world artifacts with symbols of the modern, consumerist age.

“I’m not sure I’m good at art, but I find an escape in it,” says the burly, bearded 49-year-old artist. “This is one way you can release yourself.”

Ai Weiwei doesn’t need to be modest. He is widely considered one of the pioneers of Chinese contemporary art, and one of the country’s most innovative thinkers.

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This is the man, after all, who experts say helped change the course of Chinese modern art. He was among the first artists to break away from Soviet realism and the propaganda of the Cultural Revolution. He was also among the first to challenge Mao’s official portrait.

In the late 1970s, he was a member of the famous – or infamous – “Stars” group of self-taught artists who made history by displaying their provocative art works on the steps of the National Gallery in Beijing. And after a lengthy sojourn to New York City, he returned home in the 1990s to found the experimental East Village community in Beijing, which produced shocking performance art and provocative paintings, photography and installations.

Today, Ai Weiwei is not just one of the country’s best-known artists, he’s also passing himself off as an architect. Working with the Swiss architectural firm, Herzog & de Meuron, he helped design Beijing’s new $375 million national stadium for the 2008 Olympics, the so-called “Bird’s Nest.” And his own art works are in great demand, like his “Map of China,” which was carved from wood salvaged from an old temple. The piece was auctioned off by Sotheby’s for $228,000.

Some critics say Ai Weiwei’s works, like his photographs, are often simplistic political jabs at the government, or authority. Others say some of his most creative work deconstructing traditional Chinese furniture was first done by the artist Shao Fan.

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But some insiders here say Ai Weiwei was a master at borrowing from other artists, and selling his ideas to a wider audience of curators, collectors and journalists. Holland Carter, an art critic for The New York Times, has called Ai Weiwei’s works “stimulating,” and perhaps the works of someone jesting as a kind of “Scholar Clown.”

Uli Sigg, the former Swiss ambassador to China and one of the biggest collectors of Chinese contemporary art, calls Ai Weiwei a genius.

“He has a profound knowledge of Western and Chinese culture, and a profound knowledge of Chinese tradition. And he continues to play this game between all these different worlds,” Mr. Sigg says in an interview. “He comes up with these seemingly simple objects and solutions that are more complex than they appear. And he has a broad range of artistic expression that is always intelligent.”

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His Beijing studio is now a regular stop for art collectors, foundation executives, visitors from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Guggenheim, Tate Modern and even former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. He’s a jury member of the Chinese Contemporary Art Awards, which was founded by Uli Sigg.

And his gallery, the Chinese Art Archives & Warehouse, is partnering with Galerie Urs Meile of Lucerne, Switzerland, to show some of China’s most adventurous and avant garde artists.

In a country where the government still looks down suspiciously on contemporary art – and often closes exhibitions – Ai Weiwei is a peculiar figure. He questions the government, thumbs his nose at authority of any kind, and delights in creating art works that are as much about deconstructing traditional objects as they are about creating modern art works.

And much of what he creates, he hints, is simply created on a whim. When asked, for instance, what was the thinking behind his series of photographs that show him holding – and then dropping – a Han Dynasty vase. He shot back to one reporter: “To show that gravity works.”

This is how Ai Wei Wei sometimes talks – cleverly, brashly – and then modestly.

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To hear Ai Wei Wei tell his story, the listener might conclude that it was all an accident, an accident of time and history that brought him to this point. The stories he tells seem to place Ai Wei Wei and his family at the mercy or history – a group of people that simply traveled in time, following the convulsions of Chinese history. Somehow, they survive. And somehow, Ai Wei Wei, after years of wandering in search of ideas, finds himself at the center of an artistic whirlwind that is sweeping China.

“It’s getting weird, getting crazy,” he says. “Every day people from big art museums, foundations, writers, photographers, filmmakers. They all come and they all want to find out what’s happening in China,” he says. “You can’t imagine – all these people. They don’t even go to the Great Wall. They come here.”

II. The Son of Ai Qing.

A

i Weiwei was born in 1957, the year Mao and the Communist Party unleashed the “anti-Rightist” campaign. After allowing intellectuals and others to criticize the Party, the government quickly grew impatient and troubled by a barrage of critiques and suddenly began labeling intellectuals “Rightists,” or enemies of the state. Many were imprisoned or subjected to hard labor.

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Ai Weiwei’s father – the renowned poet Ai Qing – criticized the Communist regime and became one of the campaign’s first victims. He was banished from Beijing and sent to labor camps in northern Heilongjiang Province and western Xinjiang Province.

“He was an enemy of the state, an enemy of the people. As a youth, I lived as the son of an enemy of the state,” Ai says brimming with emotion in his Beijing studio. “He cleaned toilets. My whole family lived in horrible conditions. But this was the road this nation took.”

When Ai Weiwei tells his own story of growing up in China, he returns to his father’s story, again and again, often jumping back in time to recall in great detail the cruelty of his father’s life in exile, and his own anguish.

At the time of Ai Weiwei’s birth, his father was one of the country’s best-known poets. He had studied painting in Paris in the 1930s. His best-known poem, “Dayanhe,” appeared in 1936, during the Japanese occupation. His father had at one time been imprisoned by Chiang Kai Shek and the Koumintang; and then, later, by the Communists. His fortunes rose and fell with the nation that was, more often than not, divided.

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“In 1942, there was a literary meeting in Yan’an,” Ai Weiwei says. “My father was at that meeting. The Communists were still in Yan’an. He had a photograph of it when I was growing up. Back then, art and literature was very simple. Everything is either you’re pro or against. So literature was class struggle. For one sentence, you could sacrifice your life.”

After nine years in Xinjiang, the family was sent to a military re-education camp near the Gobi Desert. And there, for the next five years, Ai Weiwei says his father did nothing but clean toilets. The great poet who inspired generations of writers was also nearly beaten to death.

A break came in the 1970s, when according to some account, a foreigner asked Premier Zhou Enlai whatever happened to the poet Ai Qing. Before long, Ai Qing was allowed to return to Beijing and the home he had purchased in 1957. He was exonerated in 1978, and resumed writing til the end of his life.

III. The East Village: New York and Beijing.

A

i Weiwei returned to Beijing too, in the 1970s, and he began to take up art, often encouraged by friends of his father, who had seen his drawings and sketches.

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When China re-opened colleges after the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, Ai Weiwei managed to defy the odds and gain admittance to two of the country’s most prestigious schools: the Beijing Film Academy and the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

He enrolled in the film school along side Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, who are now acclaimed directors and members of the so-called Fifth Generation of filmmakers. But his film studies were cut short.

“After two years of study I was so bored. We were all very excited to get in, but I was very unhappy,” he says. “We had just come through a tough period. There were no human rights. It was just a dark age. Then suddenly, people were talking about the “Four Modernizations,” but no one was questioning how things were done in the past. So I was disappointed.”

During that time, Ai says he joined the “Stars,” a collection of self-taught artists who were questioning authority and challenging traditional notions of art. The group, led by the sculptor Wang Keping, held an exhibition on the steps of the National Gallery in Beijing in 1979. And soon after, they were a national and international sensation.

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People called it a dramatic break from Communist Party art. The art movement blossomed alongside Beijing’s “Democracy Wall,” where young people began expressing themselves and posting their idealistic thoughts.

But when the authorities did away with “Democracy Wall,” and history swung back toward tightening the reins of free expression, Ai says his girlfriend’s family to help him secure a visa to study in the United States.

He left for Berkeley, California in 1981. And before long passed his English language test and moved to New York City, where he enrolled at Parson’s School of Design and the Art Students League.

While in New York, he says he studied Dadaism, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp. And he dropped out of school again. He spent most of his 12 years in New York wandering the streets, visiting art exhibitions, going to bookstores and working part-time as a baby sitter, construction worker and printer. He also experimented with art and the idea of creating a community of intellectuals.

“Almost no one of my generation wasted their time,” he says now. “Either they want a degree or follow the mainstream. They want to become useful. That never crossed my mind.”

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In New York, he also befriended a lonely New York poet named Allen Ginsberg, an icon of the 60s anti-war movement who often read his poetry aloud at St. Mark’s Church in the Village. And Ai Wei Wei’s apartment, near Tompkins Square Park, became a kind of rooming house for a group of young Chinese artists and intellectuals, like Tan Dun, Xu Bing and Chen Kaige.

“My place was like a base in the east,” he laughs. “My answering machine said, ‘the East is Right.’ ”

According to Ai Weiwei, he was doing almost nothing in New York. He showed his art works to Allen Ginsberg, who said he doubted any gallery would show them. At parties people would turn away when he announced himself as an artist. And after he dropped out of school he became an illegal alien.

He did participate in 1985 at an exhibition at the Ethan Cohen gallery. In one of his pieces, he placed a large raincoat on a hanger with a condom tied to the coat’s pocket.

But back then, he says, German Expressionism and Basquait were all the rage. His career hardly took off.

After the student occupation of s Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was broken up in June 1989, he was outraged. He went on an eight-day hunger strike in New York to protest the crackdown. He also joined a group called “Solidarity for China.” Strangely, he says, because of those tragic events, he managed to get rid of his status as an illegal alien and get a green card, which allowed him to stay in the United States.

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But he says he returned home in 1993, after relatives told him his father was ill. He says he was reluctant to return home – a
nd felt something of a failure.

“In ’93, when I came back my mother was to shy to ask me. I didn’t have a degree, almost no money, no property, not married. I don’t have a degree, not even a bachelor’s degree. But I came back because my father was ill. In 12 years I hadn’t come back once. And I hadn’t even written a letter.”

His father died three years later, at the age of 86, in 1996.

IV. “Picasso” Comes Home.

B

ut back home Ai Weiwei returned to the art scene. He created a community of artists in Beijing’s so-called East Village, named after New York’s East Village. And he began working with artists and publishing underground books about their works, with titles like “Black Paper,” “White Paper,” or “Gray Paper.”

In photographs, he gave the finger (meaning sticking up his middle finger in a vulgar gesture) to a series of national monuments: the White House in Washington, Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the Reichstag in Berlin and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

When Ai Weiwei started documenting the works of some of his favorite artists, like Ma Liuming and Zhang Huan, he began throwing in his own art pieces, daring photographs, surrealistic sculptures and large installations, like his clever and intricate arrangement of Forever bicycles.

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From that early period, there is also a well-known photograph he took, of his wife, Lu Qing, acting as a female exhibitionist, flipping her skirt up in front of Mao’s portrait in Tiananmen Square, in June 1994. A disabled man in a motorcar watches.

He also created seemingly simple photographic series, such as “Seven Frames,” a series of 7 photographs of a Beijing military guard, each representing a portion of the body – from head to foot. The rather stiff, military official has all the indications of authority from the stern look to the neat body – only to reveal in the final frame, as the curator Wu Hung points out, that his right shoelace is untied.

This photograph, like much of Ai Weiwei’s works, are intended to poke fun at authority, to undress and expose officialdom, to deconstruct authority and tradition – as with breaking ancient vases, decorating a Han Dynasty Urn over with Coca-Cola logo or livening up Stone Age clay pots by painting them with bright “Warhol colors.”

Curiously, before 2000, Ai Weiwei was not well known as an artist. He was mostly producing books and promoting art, doing gallery work, and even selling antique furniture.

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But Ai Weiwei stirred things up in 2000 during the Shanghai Biennale, when he and Feng Boyi co-curated a show called “Fuck Off,” as a kind of alternative to the Biennale. The show was packed with provocative works, including one installation that included the bodies of two dead babies.

Almost as soon as the show opened it was closed down. But news of the closure swept through Shanghai and within days foreigners and the foreign media were talking about the “Fuck Off” show and interviewing Ai Weiwei.

Some called his show a publicity stunt, meant to shock and draw attention to him. And it worked; before long, Ai Wei Wei was not just gaining attention as a curator, he was showing off his own art works.

Now. two of the biggest collectors of Chinese contemporary art – Guan Yi and Uli Sigg – consider Ai Weiwei among the country’s best artists.

Ai Weiwei says that after 1999, China has loosened up tremendously, and one indication is how Chinese contemporary art is flourishing in Beijing and Shanghai. Only the most overtly political – like works depicting the Tiananmen Square “massacre” or the leadership – are banned or taken down.

Still, Ai Weiwei has never had a solo exhibition inside China. Most of his work has been shown in the U.S. and Europe. He says there is a great deal that needs to be changed and re-examined. China, he says, is not a free society.

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“Even today, many important political truths are hidden,” he says. “To me, it’s unbelievable. And I think society will pay a lot.”

The poster on his wall, he points out, was adapted from a government poster warning of the dangers of firecrackers in the early 90s, when firecrackers were banned in Beijing.

He turned the injured bandaged finger into a middle finger, in a vulgar western gesture.

Now, Ai Weiwei says, he’s busily working on architectural projects, though he never studied architecture. He simply picked it up, he says, and it wasn’t so hard.

For Urs Meile, his European art dealer and the founder of the Urs Meile Gallery, he’s now designing a walled compound, a live and work space gallery on a 21,000 square foot lot near his own studio.

He is meeting artists, creating new works, and doing what he’s always done – inventing provocative art works – and stirring up trouble, like some other great artists.

It was all an accident, he suggests. But then he says that he really intended to be a path breaker in the world of art.

“When I left China [for the United States], I told my mother, ‘I’m going home,’” he says. “She thought – ‘Stupid boy.’ I said, ‘Ten years later, you’ll see another Picasso.’ I was wrong. It was 20 years later,” he says with a grin.

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Related Links:
·Artist Profile: Ai Weiwei
·Ai Weiwei: New York Photographs 1983-1993
·An Interview with Ai Weiwei

Chandelier, 2002

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Study of Perspective: Eiffel Tower, 1995-2003

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Installation view of Whitewash and Still Life, 1993-2000

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Breaking of Two Blue-and-White, 1996

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One-man Shoe, 1987

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Table with Three Legs, 1998

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Caol Hives, 2000

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Feet, 2003

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