Mustard Seed Garden Lesson.
Sometimes the difficulty is stepping outside the standard lessons line and not overvaluing that precious and very expensive piece of Chinese Xuan paper and saying, OK, let's wander off into something different.
It can be very easy to stay on track and keep to the rules. Today I post a p[ainting which in the end took on four different hues because I tried to find out why the image didn't work. the painting.
the reason it didn't work was that the flowers were very off balance. the reason? That the flowers were always off sided???
My Wife has just has a brain tumor removed. After wakening from the initial operation and having to go into a second emergency operation she awoke finally paralysed down her right side and initially could not speak.
My painting continually came out one sided. This is absolutely true.
So these next few posts are from that period where I tried to find a solution to the painting only to have it pointed out to me by a friend half way across the world.
4th August 2017. It's a beautiful world.
Chinese Art Supliers we trust!
If you're determined enough you will slowly start to see the attitude of the brush resemble Chao's work, or whichever Master you work and learn from by Example. It is a slow road for most and I will never claim I am now or ever will be a Master.
That would be foolhardy.
For one thing I have never been brought up in China, nor have I had the life of a Chinese person.
Nor have I worked, eaten, breathed slept and survived in anywhere Chinese.
So, that massive side of Chinese spirituality will always be missing.
I am western conditioned, regardless of the fact that I hate that branding.
Lucky for us, in the 2000's we can purchase from China the art materials we so badly need from any number of outlets advertising across the world.
Two that I particularly love and trust enough to spend copious fund swith are www.Inkston.com and www.HMayXuanPaper.com because the quality, material range and speed of service as well as the perfect degree of one to one communicationmakes these suppliers the top of anyones list.... if you're serious about the Chinese Arts.
I, for one, cannot stand to use anything that is strictly not traditionally Chinese. Nor do I enjoy using liquid inks, I more prefer to make that black ink from an ink stick because I know that sticks history and I know the forests it came from and I can see it in my minds eye....... and its what the Chinese have done for so many ages past.
As with the paper. As old as I can afford it. I prefer that off white look to it. Tatty edges and torn into shape.
It's something that starts to grow on you spiritually as you as you study the art more and more. It is as if the fibres of Chinese something slowly integrate and help you see what should be there, as opposed to what you thought ought to be there instead.
It is a gentle journey, and one I respect in that THIS is CHINESE not Western. I use Chinese stone for the seals, Chinese bamboo for the brushes. It is as if something has suddenly repelled me from the western side of Art.
I do not look too deeply as to why I enjoy it so much. I simply enjoy what feels to flourish as time crawls on. I am me. I am English. But not neccessarily by nature.
Tonight's Chao Shao-an Practice.
Translation:= The four great things are all void and empty: This painting is a little saddening for me as, because of the origin of the material, I remember the elements that cost me someone I deemed a friend. I think greed got in there somewhere. I purchased from someone a pair of ink sticks. Nothing unusual there... I had purchased many things from this person and to the tune of over £1000ukp but these two ink sticks were destined to cost me £100 or so with shipping. Upon using them it was apparent that they were at least 80% glue. That being the case they were the sort of "tourist" objects sold to travelling holidaymakers and not Artists. This is common and in the 14 years I have studied this field I have seen it and been victim to it many times. On this occasion there was no reasoning with the person supplying. These were definitely NOT Huishi Hu Kaiwen ink sticks from the revered Chinese oldest Ink Stick factory.
sit for a while
and forget about being you or me.
Both sides are highways;
drink a cup
and each go east or west.
This evening I thought I'd post the practice I work upon in the Studio here in Scotland. After yet another fruitful trip to China I managed to obtain some superb paper which is probably meant for calligraphy but, as the Owner said ion the Art Store, "You use it as you feel."
I videoed the results twice and on each occasion the excuses got wilder and wilder. The ink sticks were supposed to be identical in use to the one I already have; a genuine one that works and makes ink in about 2 minutes. The pair delivered didn't make anything more than very pale grey dishwater.
The person supplying them insisted they were genuine and became offensive and I had to walk the other way I'm afraid. Life's too short to suffer antagonistics.
The books I studied to get this painting were supplied by her hence the disappointment of their memory in use. But we have to move forwards when we are bitten so many times in life.
Translation:= The four great things are all void and empty:
This painting is a little saddening for me as, because of the origin of the material, I remember the elements that cost me someone I deemed a friend. I think greed got in there somewhere.
I purchased from someone a pair of ink sticks. Nothing unusual there... I had purchased many things from this person and to the tune of over £1000ukp but these two ink sticks were destined to cost me £100 or so with shipping. Upon using them it was apparent that they were at least 80% glue. That being the case they were the sort of "tourist" objects sold to travelling holidaymakers and not Artists. This is common and in the 14 years I have studied this field I have seen it and been victim to it many times.
On this occasion there was no reasoning with the person supplying. These were definitely NOT Huishi Hu Kaiwen ink sticks from the revered Chinese oldest Ink Stick factory.
Translation:= With ten thousand volumes of books,
Then I sit and look at the colours and wonder how thin the paint was in some parts of the painting.
Then I choose some paper.
This is a copy of a painting he has done.
For me it's something beautiful to leave the computer behind with Animation and Dragons, Elves and Ogres and sit outside electronica and paint in this ancient fashion which is where the initial drive to paint Chinese came from.
But Phones are definitely not worthy of displaying our Works?
It's been a while since I've felt the need to write something inside this Blog. Actually, its not a blog, it's more of a standard website from the days of the 1990's in so far as it allows full width formatting and shows the Paintings I work on and from in large detail. Big enough to see without pussyfooting about with fade in galleries and giant arrows on the images. I hate that.
Artists need S P A C E . Not between the ears either.
The ability for other artists to display their work seems to have been crushed with social media sites. I host with HeartInternet utilising the fastest servers on the planet without limits on space or bandwidth because you need something of a vehicle to display what you're doing in the Arts with impact.
Phones are not browsers.
Too many people are sadly dependant on squinched up little images shown on what basically amounts to a Phone site. How on earth we're supposed to impress a client or potential customer with an image three inches across baffles me and the design of sites that are "phone shaped" and only utilise the middle third of a screen...... and that's acceptable?
The only way to seriously browse the web is through a proper desktop device or large laptop. If you're on a "just passing" crusade with your life and its progress and your study levels mimics this.... then so will your life achievements.
I'm afraid a postage stamp sized representation of your achievements...... kind of self declares by its size, the level of achievement to onlookers.
One Taker brave enough.
I'm happy to say that Darlene Kaplan, an American Chinese Art Enthusiast of some note who is quite achieved in this field in the states has taken up the offer I put out on a social site of having a full scale blog to post her work on.
I get the impression that it is a challenge for her as web technologies are not her hot spot but... she is ready for the challenge and already has several online prescences though sadly... some adhere to the failings stated above.
One of her sites kind of hung off left on 27% of the screen. Who the hell designs these things? SEE HERE Darlene's newa nd upcoming Blog....... and bookmark it because it will be worth your attention And, as you'll see, it uses the whole of that brand new monitor your new computer came with. Not just the middle third bit.
Her works are seen across the planet andif, like me, you've been in the field a while and enjoy seeing the work of others because you can now appreciate it, her posts will be worth the time it takes to read them.
Old coding still works, it's just called something ridiculous now.
In 1994 we used "variable parameters" on the pages so that it didn't matter what you viewed the site on it organised itself to fit. Now they call this "Adaptive" as if its some kind of magic programming that's come about but in truth, its been missing for years because programmers and coders and internet designers have been lame, lazy and basically..... crap. Spewing out nonsense sites and convincing their clientele that "This is the way forwards!"
Let us pray!
I hope that by the next decade's end we have a system where people are once again looking at high definition internet sites on large viewers because if you went to the movies and were handed a three inch handheld pocket device to watch the movie on while you walked around the refreshment booth, you'd want your money back.
Increasing Numbers to the Chinese Arts in the West.
Pleasingly, there are more and more people taking up the Chinese Arts. Sadly, too many are mixing it with Westernisms and this is a contamination not tolerated by the traditionalists in China. That's a bit like going out for a Chinese meal and then being asked if you want some Bisto poured all over your rice.
So why play this game with something that's historically beautiful. No, I have zero toleration for Western Infiltration of pollutants in this most ancient art to the degree there is nothing western on my Art Table at all. I have never indulged in Western Style Painting. only Chinese. I am lucky in this respect as I have no habitual traits to spoil the progressive walk I demand from it.
Are you an Artist looking for a way to display your works? Bigger than the patronising social sites allow you? You can write to me and we can see what can be done.
The New Landscape of Chinese Ink Painting
From "Fresh Ink," Arnold Chang's Secluded Valley in the Cold Mountains (detail), 2008, handscroll, is a response to Jackson Pollock's classic drip painting Number 10.
COURTESY MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON/PROPERTY OF THE ARTIST
Contemporary Chinese art has attracted so much attention in recent years that it is hard to imagine any overlooked artist or movement. But while many oil painters and conceptual artists like Cai Guo-Qiang and Zhang Huan have become art stars and millionaires, practitioners of traditional ink-and-brush painting have largely been ignored. Now, with major exhibitions in the works at U.S. museums, and with strong results in the auction houses, contemporary Chinese ink painting is finally moving into the spotlight.
"It is time for people to get to know about China in a more esthetic, contemplative way," says Hao Sheng, curator of Chinese art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where his exhibition "Fresh Ink: Ten Takes on Chinese Tradition" will open on November 20. The exhibition will pair works from the museum’s renowned collection of Chinese painting with art made in response to it by contemporary Chinese artists, many of whom are trained in classical ink painting.
Painting with brush and ink on rice paper is a traditional form of Chinese painting. "I prefer to call it 'calligraphy painting,' a type of painting that is influenced by a literary imagination and the written word," says Johnson Chang, curator and owner of Hanart TZ Gallery in Hong Kong, who has been at the forefront of promoting contemporary ink painting for the past two decades.
"Ink art," as some curators call it, can encompass a wide range of untraditional techniques, even multimedia productions that evoke classical art and the literati tradition. "All the contemporary formats of art can combine with the tradition of ink painting," says Kuiyi Shen, professor of Asian art history, theory, and criticism at the University of California, San Diego, and cocurator (with Britta Erickson and Lu Hong) in 2007 of the Third Chengdu Biennale, which was devoted to contemporary ink painting. "Ink is an idea, an esthetic, that can reflect ideas of modern people," he emphasizes.
Focusing on artists who demonstrate a relationship to the past, Hao Sheng found a surprising range of approaches within the ten he selected for "Fresh Ink," from the Chinese American Arnold Chang, who studied classical ink painting for more than 20 years, to the MacArthur Award-winning conceptual artist Xu Bing, who recently returned to China, after more than a decade in New York, to serve as vice chairman of Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts, China's leading art school. "These artists' relationship with tradition is very diverse," says Sheng. "There are those who seek to hold up the highest standards. Then there are others who seek to subvert them. But these challenges are also based on a deep knowledge of what the tradition is."
Scholars have been interested in contemporary ink painting since the inception of the New Ink Painting movement in Taiwan and Hong Kong, in the '60s, but "Fresh Ink" will give a wider audience an opportunity to see ink painting made by living practitioners. The MFA’s collection provided plenty of inspiration for the artists. Yu Hong, a woman artist, chose to respond to Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk (early 12th century) by painting directly on silk banners. Traditionalist Li Huayi, inspired by Northern Song dynasty scrolls, inscribed a landscape of craggy mountains, pines, and clouds on a series of screens. Qin Feng made calligraphic abstract strokes across accordion-like, towering screens. Xu Bing, known for his experimental approach to Chinese characters, took the 17th-century Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting as his starting point, scanning motifs from it and rearranging them.
"The concept of learning from the past is something that happens in all art making but certainly has deep tradition in Chinese art," says Sheng, referring to the Chinese academic training that requires students to learn by copying the masters. Ironically, many of the artists in the show had seen the classical works only in reproduction, since so many masterpieces were smuggled out of China during the civil war of the '30s through the Communist period.
"I am not attracted to ink painting because it is a hot new area," says Arnold Chang, who lives in New York. "I've been doing ink painting since I was a kid." Chang was taught by the master painter and collector C. C. Wang and also studied with James Cahill, the prominent scholar of Chinese art at the University of California, Berkeley. He thus acquired better training in ink painting than many of his colleagues in China, especially those who grew up during the Cultural Revolution, when traditional art forms were considered feudal and antirevolutionary and were strictly forbidden.
For the exhibition, Chang chose a non-Chinese work, Jackson Pollock's Number 10 (1949), and produced a landscape of similar dimensions. "I am a contemporary artist, yes, but how do we define contemporary Chinese art? Is it contemporary art done by Chinese people? Or is it Chinese art done by contemporary people?"
Placing himself and his art in the latter category, Chang acknowledges that works like his appeal mostly to those already steeped in the classical tradition. "If it opens up the world of actual Chinese painting to contemporary audiences, then I would feel completely gratified," he says.
In contrast to Chang's conservative approach, many Chinese artists are taking liberties with what is sometimes called the "ink esthetic." Qiu Zhijie, for example, is a conceptual artist who has made photographs, installations, and ink drawings. In 2009, when his works were not released from customs in time for the opening of a show at Chambers Fine Art in New York, he painted a surrealistic landscape, reflecting his circumstances, directly on the gallery wall.
For a recent show at Contrasts Gallery in Shanghai, curator Gao Minglu, a renowned scholar, selected artists who were considering ink from various points of view, including He Xiangyu, who made pigment from Coca-Cola, and Zhang Yu, who made pictures entirely from his inky fingerprints. "In the past, ink painting was a very elitist sort of thing, but now contemporary artists use it to address daily life," Gao says.
"My main focus is to look for works where the artist is still resonating with the past in some way," says Maxwell Hearn, curator of Asian art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, who is planning a contemporary-ink survey show. His recent exhibition "Mastering the Art of Chinese Painting: Xie Zhiliu (1910–1997)" gave audiences an idea of how a 20th-century master of ink painting prepared for his projects.
Although Xie represents an older generation, his estate was an invaluable find, because it included sketchbooks and tracings that had clearly been used to make the seemingly spontaneous paintings. "I had always had the idea that Chinese artists meditate for three days in front of a blank piece of paper and then create beautiful masterpieces.
But, no, Chinese artists, like Western artists, make preparatory sketches," Hearn says.
Most museum curators in the United States have been trained in classical but not contemporary Chinese art, and they would like to build a bridge between the two. Ink painting is popular in China, where it is practiced by amateur enthusiasts as well as trained artists. It has generated important shows. In Hong Kong, where there is a large community of collectors and supporters of ink painting, dealer Alice King is spearheading a movement to establish a contemporary-ink museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District.
"It is something that the West hasn't really understood or been keyed into, but anyone with an understanding of ink painting sees that it is one of the really important movements at the moment," says independent curator Britta Erickson, author of On the Edge: Contemporary Chinese Artists Encounter the West, who is currently working on a series of videos about contemporary ink painters.
There is certainly a growing interest among Chinese collectors for works by 20th-century masters of ink painting. In May of this year, Aachensee Lake (1968) by Zhang Daqian sold for an astonishing $14.8 million at China Guardian Auctions in Beijing. The figure rivaled records achieved by such contemporary art stars as Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun and demonstrated the strength of the market for modernist ink paintings in mainland China. Just weeks later, Christie's Hong Kong made more than $27 million in a single afternoon sale of modern Chinese paintings, with works by Fu Baoshi and Xu Beihong attracting bids topping $1 million.
Now the question is whether this enthusiasm will spread to contemporary practitioners of ink painting. The record for a contemporary artist is $976,569, for Xu Bing's The Living Word (2001), which is strong but pales in comparison to prices for the top-selling Chinese oil painters. "We have been concentrating on new ink painting because it is much more undervalued and modest in price, so people can build good collections in it still, and I think there is a lot of very interesting work being done in it," says New York/London dealer Michael Goedhuis, who represents several artists included in "Fresh Ink," such as Liu Dan, Qin Feng, and Li Jin. He says he has works by them available for less than $75,000. (A more traditional painter, Li Huayi, who shows with Eskenazi Limited in London, sells for between $300,000 and $1 million.)
Contemporary ink art is featured in galleries specializing in contemporary Chinese art around the world. In New York, it can be found at Chambers Fine Art, Ethan Cohen Fine Arts, and China 2000 Fine Art; in London, at Michael Goedhuis and Eskenazi; and in Hong Kong, at Alice King, Hanart TZ, and Schoeni Art Gallery. At Chambers Fine Art, works by Qiu Zhijie sell for $20,000 to $200,000, while Wang Tiande, who creates calligraphy with cigarette burns on rice paper, sells for up to $150,000. Ethan Cohen also shows Qin Feng, for prices as high as $500,000. Qin Feng, whose works have fetched $450,000 at auction, has created a series of silk screens with Pace Prints, priced at $2,500 to $10,000 for each print.
"We see that interest in contemporary ink paintings is expanding, and the strongest interest seems to be among collectors who are already interested in modern Chinese paintings," says Elizabeth Hammer, Chinese-art specialist at Christie's New York. "However, I think it unlikely that contemporary ink will follow in the footsteps of contemporary Chinese art, as the collectors interested in these two areas, and the type of marketing and exposure dedicated to each, have been and continue to be quite different."
One obstacle cited by those involved in this market is that Westerners have little education in classical Chinese art, so they have not developed connoisseurship in the field and may not be sensitive to the nuances or able to pick up the references in these more contemporary artworks. "I think about this all the time, because I am working in a museum in America and I am showing some of the finest objects of the Chinese tradition," says Sheng. "How to get people to accept that these works are so beautiful and so important is a challenge."
He hopes that by pairing classical and contemporary, he will help the audience understand the works. "I think when we show contemporary and classical works together, the interpretation goes both ways. The classical works provide historical background for the new works, while the new works offer a new interpretation for the old ones."
(From Yahoo Wikipedia)
Spiritual undertones are balanced alongside familiar contemporary images including sources from popular media, cyberspace, nature, graffiti, kitsch, and historical painting.
Cheung has recently used video animation and sculpture in his work, but focuses mainly on painting. He chooses bold colors and often paints on dense collages made from London's pink financial times listings with ink, oil, acrylic gel and spray paint.
During an interview he has said of his work, "They're meant to be artificially luminous, a metaphor perhaps for the loss of that utopian vision of the future after the millennium bug threat, the .com crash, the collapse of Enron, the war on terror- and all before the current recession. Yet it's also meant to suggest a glimmer of hope."
Cheung received an MFA from the Royal College of Art in 2001, and currently lives and works in London. Gordon's works can be found in major collections both in Europe and America including Elspeth & Imogen Turner Collection (UK) and Stephane Janssen Collection (USA), works from both collections are loaned to major museums on a regular basis.References
Chinese Artists in Europe are very far and few between. It is an oddity that in every town there's an art store, floor to ceiling art materials from the usual drolls of common western manufacturers, but nothing in the way of Chinese Art itself. Nothing!
And further still... ink stones. Paper and so on.
Now England has to rewrite the entire library of bloated self hailing History books... actually, so will the rest of the world.
Despite the idiotic incessant antagonisms RaggedyBird.com suffers from juveniles like SF108 in YouTube.com (And all the fake channels they have set up as hate channels towards RaggedyBird.com, RaggedyDragon.com and the ChineseCalligraphy YouTube Channel itself ) Chinese Art in Europe is scarce.
Stats then show that Western Artists exist in society to a tune of 1 in every 34 people. Chinese Artists exist as 1 in (Close your eyes SF108) every 181,000. Well, I'm happy to stick that in my brush and paint with it. It's what I've discovered after all and as if that's not the cruncher, even with the beautiful diversity of the Chinese Arts itself let alone the actual delicousness of the visuals concerning the materials themselves, no one in England stocks ANYTHING Chinese Art Wise with any degree of seriousness.
Laugh!!! But the peculiarity of this issue is such that, when someone finally has the nerve to waken to this gaping maw in a potential market, (And the finances to boot; Diamonds are cheaper than Shipping from China currently.) the Art Scene will change for ever.
As Ai Weiwei continues to openly criticize Communist party policy, his international profile is rising—but so is government response
This month, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, a major public artwork by Ai Weiwei, China's notoriously outspoken artist, will debut at the Pulitzer Fountain in New York, across from the Plaza Hotel and Central Park. The installation arrives at a time when the artist's reputation has soared, marked by his exhibition at Tate Modern in October 2010 and upcoming shows at the Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland and the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria, as well as one at Mary Boone Gallery in New York in September. But it has also been a year of escalating controversy that has left Ai Weiwei concerned about his future. That concern is well placed. As ARTnews went to press the artist was arrested and eight of his assistants and his wife were called in for questioning. The computers in his studio were confiscated.
(INSET - Ai Weiwei with porcelain seeds from his installation Sunflower Seeds, 2010, which filled the Turbine Hall at London's Tate Modern with 100 million of the replicas.)
"I'm a living artist. I live in this society. I'm part of the continuity of struggle which is for freedom of speech and individual rights, and basically that's the core value of my art activities," said Ai Weiwei during an interview in February in his Beijing studio, which he designed and built in 2000. The studio complex, constructed in his signature gray-brick style, consists of three buildings surrounding a courtyard: his home and showroom, his architecture offices, and a dormitory that houses 20 assistants.
The 54-year-old artist seemed worried, having just received news that a show scheduled to open at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing in early March had been "postponed" indefinitely. According to Ai Weiwei, the center had informed him that the exhibition was "too politically sensitive" at that time. He responded that he would prefer to cancel the show. Jérôme Sans, the center's director, refused to comment.
Ai Weiwei is virtually the only Chinese artist who openly criticizes the Communist party and Chinese officials. The exhibition scheduled for the Ullens Center, titled "So Sorry," first appeared at the Haus der Kunst in Munich in 2009, and it contained such works as an installation of over 9,000 backpacks, representing the children who were killed in the 2008 Szechuan earthquake. The artist, who blames the deaths on the shoddy construction of schools in the region, recorded the children's names on his blog, leading censors to shut it down in May 2009. Then, when he went to Szechuan to show support for a citizen who had been arrested for investigating the issue, he was beaten by local police, resulting in a brain aneurysm that required surgery in October 2009. None of this caused Ai Weiwei to temper his views. He now posts messages on Twitter eight hours a day and has more than 71,000 followers. His Twitter feed is @aiww. There is an English translation by a group not affiliated with the artist that can be found @aiwwenglish. (Since Twitter is not available in China, he uses software that allows him to circumvent the censors.)
"If I am in this kind of society and if I don't even speak up, I really feel meaningless," says the artist, whose bushy black hair, full beard, and robust figure make him look like a devilish Santa Claus. He is in no way naive about the power of the state, having grown up during China's most repressive era. His father, Ai Qing, considered one of the most renowned poets of his day, was exiled to western China during the Cultural Revolution, and Ai Weiwei grew up watching him perform the most menial tasks to survive. The family was not allowed to move back to Beijing until 1976, after the death of Mao and the fall of the infamous Gang of Four. Ai Weiwei enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy and then joined the Stars, one of the first experimental art groups in China, whose exhibitions were regularly shut down.
In 1982 he left for the United States, thinking he would never return to his homeland. While in New York, he participated in protests over such events as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. He returned to China when his father was dying, in 1993, bringing with him Western ideas that have influenced both his art projects and his political point of view.
This past year, government response to his outspoken pronouncements grew more intense. In July 2010, just a month after completion of the $1 million studio and education complex he had designed in Shanghai at the invitation of the Shanghai government, Ai Weiwei was notified that the studio would be torn down. The reason given by authorities, who compensated him for the loss, was that he didn't have the necessary planning permission—considered by many a subterfuge, since the government had given the artist title to the land as part of the original deal. The government action was seen to have been a response to his tweets about two legal cases: those of Yang Jia, a Beijing resident who killed six policemen after being arrested and beaten for riding an unlicensed bicycle, and of Feng Zhenghu, a human-rights lawyer who was waylaid at Tokyo's Narita Airport for three months when the Chinese government prohibited him from returning to China.
In November, Ai Weiwei organized a protest in Shanghai over the scheduled demolition, inviting followers to come to a crab feast he was holding at the studio. (The word for crabs in Chinese is a euphemism for censorship.) Though the artist was put under house arrest for 60 hours and was not allowed to attend the event himself, more than 1,000 people showed up for it.
Then, in December, the artist was again prevented from traveling, at the time of the Nobel Prize ceremony. The prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese human-rights activist who is in jail, and the Chinese government was afraid that his supporters would show up in Liu Xiaobo's absence. Ai Weiwei, however, was not planning on attending the ceremony. He was, instead, scheduled to appear as a judge for the Future Generation Art Prize, funded by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk.
Meanwhile the artist's profile grew increasingly prominent. "Ai Weiwei has made a major contribution over the past ten years to Chinese art and international art, and he is an artist with many parallel realities," says Hans Ulrich Obrist, curator at the Serpentine Gallery in London, who has worked with the artist many times. "He has become a very public artist, a public intellectual who assumes the role of the artist proposed by Joseph Beuys and his idea of social sculpture," Obrist explains, referring to Ai Weiwei's practice as both artist and architect, most famously as designer of the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing, for which he collaborated with the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron. Obrist sees Ai Weiwei's current practice of posting comments on Twitter, and, before that, on his blog, as a prime example of social sculpture.
Last October, Ai Weiwei unveiled Sunflower Seeds, an installation of over 100 million porcelain replicas of tiny black-and-white seeds, filling the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. The little objects were fabricated by some 1,600 artisans from Jingdezhen over the course of two years. The piece was intended as a kind of interactive carpet, where visitors could walk on the field of ceramic seeds. But, shortly after the opening, the participatory part of the installation had to be closed off because of dust particles created by people tramping over the seeds. The work could still be seen from the Turbine Bridge above. (Additional seeds were produced, and are being sold in 220-pound piles.) None of the installation's meaning was lost, according to Tate Modern curator Juliet Bingham. "The thinking behind the work lies in far more than just the idea of walking on it," she says. "Each piece is a part of the whole, a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses. The work continues to pose challenging questions: What does it mean to be an individual in today's society? Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together?" Sunflower seeds have a particular significance in China, where they are a popular street food. During the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao was often depicted as the sun and the people as sunflowers tilting toward him.
Likewise, Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads operates on several levels. At a glance, it is a funny, circus-like spectacle featuring the heads of 12 animals—each weighing 800 pounds and measuring four feet tall—standing on poles in a circle. But it also tells a story of looting and repatriation. "Even the zodiac can be political," says Ai Weiwei. In this instance, the heads were inspired by the 18th-century fountain clock created by two European Jesuits at the behest of the Manchu Emperor Qianlong for the original Summer Palace in Beijing. In 1860, the palace was ransacked by French and British troops, and the heads from the clock were looted. Recently, the heads sparked controversy when they showed up at auction. In 2000, the Poly Auction Co. repatriated three of the heads from the clock, purchased for $4 million. In 2007, Hong Kong collector Stanley Ho bought a head for over $8 million and returned it to China. But in 2009, when two heads came up at the Yves St. Laurent sale at Christie's in Paris, the Chinese government demanded their return. The sale went forward, despite warnings that the decision would damage the auction firm's dealings with China. The heads were purchased for $19 million by a buyer for China's National Treasures Fund, but he refused to pay, and the pieces were ultimately returned to the consignor.
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, funded in part by New York collector Larry Warsh and his organization AW Asia, will tour nationally and internationally. A second edition of the work will be installed at Somerset House in London this month, coinciding with a show of Ai Weiwei's works at Lisson Gallery. According to Greg Hilty, Lisson's director, prices for the exhibition will range from $28,000 for small porcelain vases and $200 to $282,000 for sculptures up to $564,000 for large-scale installations. A 200-pound pile of "sunflower seeds" sold for $550,000 at Sotheby's London in January 2011.
According to Warsh, funds are still being raised to support Zodiac, which was made in an edition of six, along with two artists proofs, which are not for sale. He says that Ai Weiwei paid for the piece and that there is a smaller, bronze and gold-plated edition of the work, for sale through the artist's studio. Ai Weiwei says that Warsh himself paid for the sculpture and is handling all sales.
Many people wondered why the artist had not yet been arrested, since many human-rights advocates in China have been detained for posting far less controversial remarks than Ai Weiwei's on the Internet. "There are people who have not done things so provocative and have been put away in various ways, and Ai Weiwei managed, with some occasional scrapes, to stay out on the street," says Jerome Cohen, an expert on human rights in China and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Cohen explains that this has been an increasingly repressive time in China, starting with the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party in October 2007 through the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 and up to the current rash of protests taking place in some of China's major cities. "Ai Weiwei could become a kind of leader of protests," says Cohen, who spoke to ARTnews just a week before the artist was arrested. "So far there is no leader. Anyone who looks like he might be, gets locked up, except Ai Weiwei, who has been very provocative, so he should be worried."
"Ai Weiwei is very strategic," says Uli Sigg, former Swiss ambassador to China, who owns the world's largest collection of Chinese contemporary art. He has known Ai Weiwei since the artist's return to China in the early 1990s and has worked on many projects with him, including Ai Weiwei's contribution to Documenta XII in 2007, for which he provided funding. Most recently, the two cocurated an exhibition in Bern, Switzerland, on contemporary interpretations of Chinese landscape painting, opening this month. "Ai Weiwei picks his topics very cleverly, and normally he picks them in a way that he can find some official statement or something that leans in the same direction as he does," says Sigg. "That is only part of the explanation, of course."
"I totally disagree with that statement," says Lee Ambrozy, who recently translated and edited Ai Weiwei's three years of blog postings for publication by MIT Press. "Ai Weiwei doesn't know how to not cross the line. He always crosses the line. He is pushing the line further and further." According to Ambrozy, Ai Weiwei has inherited his father's literary skill, mixing official government rhetoric with low-level slang and curse words. But throughout the collection of posts, the text is resolutely political. And when his blog was shut down, Ai Weiwei turned to Twitter.
In Chinese art circles, most other artists thought that Ai Weiwei was the only one who could get away with such subversive work. In January 2010, China's Art Value magazine had readers vote on the Internet for their favorite artist. Ai Weiwei won, with 3,000 more votes than the next leading artist, following which the magazine eliminated Ai Weiwei from the competition. The artist showed up outside the magazine's awards ceremony, mocking the other artists who attended. "I just make fun of those guys," says Ai Weiwei. "Where are you all, those artists? Why don't you protect the basic human dignity or the rights of art? You just sell, sell, sell."
Though few would go on record for this article, there are those who believe that, because of his father's history, the Chinese government was reluctant to touch him and remind people of the dark days of the Cultural Revolution. Others believe that there was someone higher up in the government protecting him. "I asked him two years ago if he has a protector up there, and he says he doesn't, but people think he does and maybe that's enough," says Cohen. "Nobody wants to take the chance and get their fingers burned by moving against somebody who may have some powerful clout."
Some speculated that he had just gotten too famous internationally for the government to arrest him. "He has some international support, but so do other people," says Sigg. Now, with his detention, it is evident that not even that support is sufficient to protect him.