Hello Hello Ai Weiwei

Will the Chinese star's detention force the art world to better confront human rights?

Re-creations of pieces plundered by British and French troops during the Second Opium War, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads reshuffles the spiny issues of looting, repatriation, and jingoism with a healthy dose of moxie: "The rabbit and rat bronzes from the Old Summer Palace are not Chinese culture, and they have no artistic value," Ai said before casting his faux-historical menagerie. He has arrayed these counterfeits inside the Pulitzer Fountain—as fake as any LV handbag on Canal Street, they illustrate centuries of sham tangles between civilizations as often cooperating as not. Sound familiar?

Michael Bloomberg put it brilliantly last month at the unveiling of Zodiac Heads: "Artists risk everything to create. They risk failure. They risk rejection. They risk public criticism. But artists like Ai Weiwei, who come from places that do not value and protect free speech, risk even more than that." After the "Free Ai Weiwei" signs are taken down, and the petition drives have dried up, it will remain for artists like Anish Kapoor—who cancelled an elaborate show last week at Beijing's National Museum—to take up Ai's cause and example. If everything can be art today, then surely we should begin with guaranteeing its freedom of expression.

Circle of Animals/ Zodiac Heads
Britt Ernst
Circle of Animals/ Zodiac Heads
Ai: The moxie man
Elisa Haberer
Ai: The moxie man


UPDATE: The UK’s Guardian newspaper is reporting today, June 22, that Ai Weiwei has just been freed after two and a half months of detention by Chinese police. Police say they have released the artist on bail “because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes,” and also “in consideration of the fact that Ai has repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes he evaded.” A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch predicts that the artist will probably have to apply for permission to travel outside the country and have to report regularly to the police. The parallels to the “official” totalitarian miseries experienced by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in Soviet Russia continue. After the smoke clears in next few weeks, we will know whether Ai has traded his police cell for a prison as big as China. Whatever his new conditions, he has already done more than anyone living to earn the next Nobel Peace Prize.

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Giuseppe stampone
Giuseppe stampone

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all those that will not shout by any means "I don't accept the bye bye"

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for al those who after Liu Xiaobo will also forget Ai Weiwei

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all those who think that when the Biennial will be over, the lights go off, after writing some article, the conscience is quiet.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all those who think that a "bye bye" is wrong and a "hello" is right, after selling the news, the day after they hide the article on Ai Weiwei in the caprice drawer.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all those who think that the arrest of Ai Weiwei is mana from heaven to make their prices hike.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all those who had judged the sign wrongly only because I summoned the world: "stop saying too-easy and treacherous words; it is too obvious to give hopes when possibly the only way to make things change is that one of realize the terrible situation in which Ai Weiwei is living today" (I am sure that it is way easier to clean our consciences with a "hello"). HOPE implies a moment of waiting, of immobility; the realization implies an ACTION to change it.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all those who think that it could never happen to them.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all those who don't ask their country, their politicians to take a defined position.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all those who are not aware that change happens suddenly through the responsable behavior of each one of us in our own daily life.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all those who don't give the right value (considering the differences) to the mistaken action of all those with whom we are involved every day; wether it is for business or pleasure, wether it is in the public or private sphere.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all the gallerists that will take part of the art fairs that will take ace in China, forgetting that they are on business with the same people that feeds the system that allowed in that same country to take Ai Weiwei's life away from him.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all the artists that first play the part of the bourgeois with easy slogans that allow them to gain the attention of all the art system, and then they want to conquer the Chinese market making money that is dirty with blood of exploited innocent people.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all the artists that will show their work in exhibitions, art fairs, biennials in China, forgetting that Ai Weiwei doesn't have the possibility of showing the country in which he was born anymore.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all the curators, critics, museum directors that will put together projects in China forgetting that the gained money and glory arrives from the same economical system that every day exploits thousands of people and deprives them of their freedom, as with Ai Weiwei.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all the government leaders that go one making business with China knowing what happens in that country.

Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all those that like me, asked themselves why today the only thing that I can say in this absurd world is "Bye Bye".