Saturday, April 16th, 2011

Release Ai Weiwei

A banner at Tate Modern, London calls for the release of Ai Weiwei, April 2011.
A banner at Tate Modern, London calls for the release of Ai Weiwei, April 2011. Ai's work, Sunflower Seeds, 2010, remains on view in the museum's Turbine Hall through May 2.

The April 3 detention of internationally celebrated artist Ai Weiwei by the Chinese Government is a matter of increasing concern and indignation in the global art community.  artcritical applauds the leadership of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and other institutions working for his release and urges readers both to sign their online petition and to join protests, called by others for Sunday April 17 at 1pm at embassies and consulates of the People’s Republic around the world.

The petition is accompanied by a statement we fully endorse: “We members of the international arts community express our concern for Ai’s freedom and disappointment in China’s reluctance to live up to its promise to nurture creativity and independent thought, the keys to ‘soft power’ and cultural influence.’’

It is especially galling to see the artistic adviser to the 2008 Beijing Olympics arrested amongst hundreds of lawyers, activists and ordinary citizens in a crackdown clearly intended to stifle any spread of Jasmine revolution to China.  The charge of “economic crimes” cuts no muster, for Ai’s woes with the authorities are longstanding and political.  They are said to date back to the artist’s courageous stance on the Sichuan earthquake and its aftermath, and have already included the extraordinary spectacle of the government-ordered demolition of his landmark Shanghai studio.

While these actions are appalling, they also powerfully vindicate the idea that art and artists can actually matter in the minds of governments and the hearts of protesters.  China needs to get the message that persecuting its most high-profile artist directly undermines its Olympic glory.