Ai Weiwei Quotes

In honor of Ai Weiwei’s current show at the Gardiner Museum (which I have yet to see), here are a few of his best quotes. He’ll be at the Gardiner until June 9, 2019.

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Above: An Ai Weiwei sculpture as seen at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche

“If my art has nothing to do with people’s pain and sorrow, what is ‘art’ for?”

“An artwork unable to make people feel uncomfortable or to feel different is not one worth creating. This is the difference between the artist and the fool.”

“When human beings are scared and feel everything is exposed to the government, we will censor ourselves from free thinking. That’s dangerous for human development.”

“I call on people to be ‘obsessed citizens,’ forever questioning and asking for accountability. That’s the only chance we have today of a healthy and happy life.”

“To the media, I have become a symbolic figure, critical of China. According to the government, I am a dangerous threat.”

“A nation that has no music and no fairytales is a tragedy.”

“People are always wondering if I am an artist or political activist or politician. Maybe I’ll just clearly tell you: Whatever I do is not art. Let’s say it is just objects or materials, movies or writing, but not art, OK?”

“My work has always been political, because the choice of being an artist is political in China.”

“Why are you so concerned about society?’ That is always the question. And my answer is simple: ‘Because you are an artist, you have to associate yourself with freedom of expression.”

“The people who control culture in China have no culture.”

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Winter Art Shows

I’ve been hibernating most of the winter, but it is time to go see some art. Here are three exhibitions I plan to visit in the coming weeks. I’ll write a review of each as I do.

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ABOVE: The Art Gallery of Ontario, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Ai Weiwei: Unbroken, Gardiner Museum, February 28 – June 9, 2019

I’m a big fan of Ai Wewei, and loved his last show at the Art Gallery of Ontario. This time, he is bringing his ceramic works to the Gardiner. If you’re still avoiding winter, there’s still lots of time to see this exhibition.

Impressionism in the Age of Industry: Monet, Pissaro and More, Art Gallery of Ontario, February 16 – May 5, 2019

Probably the biggest show of the season, this is likely to be it’s most popular as well. Like the show above, this one runs into the spring, so if you’re still in hibernation mode, you’ve got lots of time. I plan on seeing it this weekend.

Museum of Contemporary Art

After a lengthy hiatus, the Museum of Contemporary Art opened its doors in September. I’ve been meaning to check it out since then. Hopefully, I’ll make it out there soon. The new space looks awesome.

 

Some of My Favorite Art Exhibitions

I love art exhibitions, and through the years, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some really great ones. Of them all, here are three of my favorites – in no particular order.

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ABOVE: Scott Hocking, The Reptile Room: Mercury Retrograde, installation

2012

SiTE:LAB @ 54 Jefferson (formerly the Grand Rapids Public Museum)

Grand Rapids, Michigan

In 2012, SiTE:LAB took over the former home of the Grand Rapids Public Museum and filled the space with the work of 18 artists. The building, which was vacated in 1994, still contained a number of its dioramas and exhibits, and they, along with the artist’s installations, provided the viewer with a truly unique experience. It was surreal and creepy, and, it was the top venue at Artprize 2012.

 

ABOVE: Ai Weiwei, Straight, installation

2013

Ai Weiwei: According to What? (Art Gallery of Ontario)

Toronto, Ontario

Having followed Weiwei’s exploits in the news, I was super excited to see this politically charged exhibition. Everything on display was deep, but I especially liked Straight (pictured above), which consisted of 150 tons of rebar recovered from schools that had collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake. They were all straightened, and on the wall behind them, were the names of the students who lost their lives in the quake. Heavy.

 

ABOVE: Gabriel Dawe, Plexus A1, installation

2016

Wonder (Renwick Gallery)

Washington D.C.

In 2015, after a two-year renovation, the Renwick Gallery opened its doors to Wonder, an immersive exhibition featuring the work of 9 artists. Each was given a room to create a site specific installation, and the entire building became one immersive artwork. As the title suggests, it was a wonderful space to spend an hour two, and, judging by the long lineups to get in, it was a big hit with the locals too.

2015: The Good, the Bad and the Funny

From appropriation to plagiarism, and vandalism to artistic destruction, 2015 was a busy year. Here are some of the art world’s highs and lows.

 

ABOVE: Pierre-Auguste Renior, Dance at Bougival, 1883, oil on canvas, 71.6 x 38.6 inches, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston [2015]

The Good

The Chinese government gave Ai Weiwei his passport back after taking it away from him four years ago. His first trip was to Germany, where he visited his son.

Canada picks Geoffrey Farmer to represent them in Venice. Being chosen is a huge honor. Here’s hoping Farmer’s ready for the 2017 edition.

While former mafia boss Egidio “Brutus” Coppola sits behind bars, his former villa on the outskirts of Naples is set to play host to exhibitions from various galleries, among them, the Uffizi  in Florence.

The Bad

This summer, there was a show of appropriated Instagram shots “by” Richard Prince. Now, there’s a lawsuit against Jeff Koons for his appropriation of a 1986 gin ad. This isn’t the first time Koons and Prince have been accused of stealing.

ISIS continues to destroy heritage sites. Evil, pure and simple.

First, Anish Kapoor’s iconic sculpture ‘Cloud Gate’ was duplicated and unveiled in the Chinese city of Karapay. Then, a sculpture (on display at Versailles) was vandalized three times. To make matters worse, a French court ordered Kapoor to clean it all up.

The Funny

This fall, an anti-Renoir group protested outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Their goal? The removal of all Renoir’s paintings from the museum collection. This is pretty silly, especially when you consider what passes for art these days.

Courts upheld a ban that would prevent a man from entering the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The accused had threatened to urinate on paintings by Marlene Dumas and Luc Tuymans. His goal? To “improve them with a well-aimed stream.”

In May, Saltz and David Wallace-Wells wrote an article titled How and Why We Started Taking Kim Kardashian Seriously (and What She Teaches Us About the State of Criticism). I’m a big fan of Saltz, but man! That’s too much.

Art and Politics: Part 2

According to Ai Weiwei, “Creativity is the power to reject the past, to change the status quo, and to seek new potential.” On that note, here is another edition of Art and Politics.

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ABOVE: Ai Weiwei by Duyanpili, Photo: © Gao Yuan 高远, 2009

No discussion on political art would be complete without mention of the following:

Pablo Picasso, Guernica

On April 26, 1937, German and Italian planes launched an aerial attack on the Spanish town of Guernica. The bombing – done at the request of Francisco Franco – shattered the city’s defenses, and allowed Franco’s Nationalists to overrun it.

While the number of deaths has been widely debated, the raids destroyed the majority of Guernica, and transformed the sleepy Spanish town into an everlasting symbol of civilian suffering.

Picasso – who was living in Paris at the time – was so affected by these raids, that he immediately began work on what would become his greatest political masterpiece, Guernica.

The mural sized painting was first displayed in the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair, but was later sent to the United States to raise funds and support for Spanish refugees. Vowing that Guernica wouldn’t return to Spain so long as Franco was in power, Picasso requested that it be temporarily housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 1981 – six years after the death of Franco  – it returned to Spain.

In the years since its creation, Guernica has become a powerful cultural icon that speaks to humanity not only against war, but also of hope and peace.

The Guerrilla Girls, Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?

In 1985,  the Museum of Modern Art (in New York City) held an exhibition titled An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture. Of the 169 artists on display, only 13 were female.

In response to the show, a group of anonymous female artists decided to speak out against the sexism of the art world. They called themselves the Guerrilla Girls, and owing to their new name, they wore gorilla masks to hide their identities.

Since its formation, the group has fought for female artists by making curators, dealers, and even critics accountable. They do this, in part, by producing posters that list the number of male and female artists on display in major museums. Ironically, many of these posters have entered the collections of the museums they renounce.

While the world, and by extension the art world, has changed a lot since 1985, inequality still exists, and because of it, the Guerrilla Girls have yet to hang up their masks.

Ai Weiwei, Remembering

On May 12, 2008, an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the richter scale, rocked the Chinese province of Sichuan. Known simply as The Great Sichuan Earthquake, it  killed 69,195 people, and left 18,392 missing.

Amidst the chaos, many schools collapsed, and thousands of children lost their lives. When he visited the area, Ai Weiwei noticed that it was littered with school supplies. Knowing that the buildings collapsed as a result of poor construction, and knowing that the Chinese authorities would attempt to cover it all up, Weiwei decided to create the installation Remembering.

Constructed from nine thousand children’s backpacks, Remembering was installed on the façade of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany in 2009. Among the backpacks was the sentence “She lived happily for seven years in this world.” It was spelled out in Chinese characters, and was a direct quote from one of the children’s mothers.

For his outspoken efforts, Ai Weiwei has been beaten (see above photo) and detained. Throughout it all, he has remained defiant.

Ai Weiwei: According to What?

If you know anything about contemporary art, you’ve heard of Ai Weiwei. Here is a review of “According to What?” At the AGO until October 27, 2013.

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vases

ABOVE: Ai Weiwei, Colored Vases, 2007-2010, sculpture 

BELOW: Ai Weiwei, Study in Perspective Series, 1995-2003, photography

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This past weekend I went to the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

I admire the man for both his artistic practice and social activism, so I had been looking forward to the show all summer.

For many, conceptual art is a confusing proposition. It is often seen as inaccessible and in many cases, it is. To his credit, Ai Weiwei is about as accessible as you can get within the genre.

Unlike many of his contemporaries who produce academic works of a purely personal narrative, Weiwei’s work is imbued with a deeper meaning and addresses critical issues that affect a large percentage of the world’s population.

This is not to say that Weiwei has entirely removed himself from the art on display or that it is devoid of academia. Both figure prominently in his work but they serve to enhance the message – not override it.

Having been to many art exhibitions over the years, I can honestly say that Ai Weiwei: According to What? was one of the most thought provoking.

Even if conceptual art is not your thing, you should go.

Ai Weiwei: According to What? is at the AGO until October 27, 2013.