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Ai Weiwei – The Independent

[07/07/2015]

 

Trained at the Beijing Academy for Cinema, AI Weiwei has always believed that the most exciting way to make art is to criticize concrete problems. Militant, dissident and politically active, Ai Wei Wei has become a genuine pioneer on the international art scene. At 21, he joined the avant-garde group of artists known as Les Etoiles that opposed Chinese socialist realism, advocating individualization and artistic experimentation. In 1981, he moved to New York where he attended the Parsons School of Design and became interested in Marcel Duchamp‘s ready-mades and particularly the principle of art is an “integral part of life”. From New York, he reacted to the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989 with an eight-day hunger strike. In 1993, he returned to Beijing to join his ailing father. His strong disagreement with the Chinese regime became even more intense and his art became even more subversive. In 1995, he initiated his famous series of photographs, Study of perspective (1995-2003) which scorned a wide range of major symbols of power such as the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, the White House, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Tiananmen Square. Ai Weiwei’s irreverence used all possible means at his disposal: photography, installations, performances with compatriots, tweeter, social networks and his blog, one of the most visited blogs in China.

Worried by the success and reach of Ai Wei Wei’s works and deeds, the Chinese authorities decided to watch him closely. On 3 April 2011, he was finally arrested by the Chinese police and his workshop and home were searched and computers confiscated. Two weeks later, on 17 April, a large show of support was organized for him in Hong Kong. On May 7, he was elected member of the Berlin Academy of Arts in. After spending 81 days in prison, he was released on bail on June 22, but kept under round-the-clock surveillance. In December, Time Magazine elected him ‘Man of the Year 2011′.

With and without the artist

In recent years, two major exhibitions have been organized in the absence of the artist because his passport has been confiscated since 2011: Evidence at the Martin Gropius Museum in Berlin (April – July 2014) and a retrospective at the Virreina Art Center in Barcelona (November 2014 – February 2015). In Barcelona, ​​his workbench was exhibited to underscore his absence (On the Table).Although Ai Weiwei’s freedom of movement has still not been re-instated, the Chinese government is showing some signs of a greater tolerance towards her. Having been banned from exhibiting his works in China, the bugbear of the regime was allowed to inaugurate an exhibition last May at the famous 798 district of Beijing.
Marginalized by the Chinese art world, Ai Wei Wei’s works are rarely seen in Chinese auctions: only 18 of his works have been auctioned there in 10 years. However, there is strong demand for his installations in London (which generates 54% of his auction turnover) and New York.

In 2015, the artist has already scored two new auction records: a golden version of Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (ed. 7/8) sold for more than $4.3m on February 12 then another edition of the same work (1/6) fetched $5.4m on June 29 (both at Phillips in London). This powerful installation draws on the memory of historical discord and difficult relations between China and Europe. Representing the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig) the work is inspired by the zodiacal fountain clock designed in the 18th century for the Beijing Summer Palace under the Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty. The Summer Palace was overrun by British and French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War and some of the bronze animal heads were looted (the rat and rabbit heads later appeared in Pierre Bergé’s collection, then François Pinault’s collection, before being returned to China in 2013). To create his work, the artist used the seven remaining originals as references and imagined the five missing heads. The installation was unveiled at the Pulitzer Fountain in Grand Army Plaza in New York in May 2011 and was subsequently exhibited across the United States, Europe and Asia.

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