41 Days since the PRC disappeared Ai Weiwei

Per, the authorities should have charged or released the detained artist five days ago. Continuing to detain Ai without filing charges is a violation of China’s criminal procedures.

Still, Ai Weiwei: A Conversation, Tate Channel

Still, Ai Weiwei: A Conversation, Tate Channel

Still, Ai Weiwei: A conversation, Tate Channel

Still, Ai Weiwei: A conversation, Tate Channel

The Tate Modern posted a short, moving video with clips from Ai Weiwei’s October 20, 2010 interview at TM, as well as shots of his Sunflower Seeds installation in Turbine Hall. Presciently, an audience member asks Ai, “Why aren’t you in jail?”

Ai’s response:

“I don’t want to stop myself; maybe I will be stopped by some other kind of force. You know, life is like that. I think you have to take chances.”

Ai’s Zodiac Heads public sculptures opened last week in New York, and this week in London. Tom Scocca posted a pointed article in the Washington Post on May 4:

All that’s missing this time around is the artist — a humiliation inflicted by China on itself….

He provoked the system, in a seemingly open-ended piece of performance art, by pretending it was reasonable and accountable that an ordinary citizen had the right to dissent.

Disappointed with the poor coverage of the recent US-China human rights talks, I was glad to read that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ratcheted up the rhetoric on China’s human rights violations in her recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly (May 10, 2011). The discussion focused on the Arab spring and Middle East peace process, but in passing Secretary Clinton said,

we have encouraged consistently, both publicly and privately, reform and recognition and protection of human rights. But we don’t walk away from dealing with China because we think they have a deplorable human rights record….

Goldberg: And (the Chinese) are acting very scared right now, in fact.

Clinton: Well, they are. They’re worried, and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool’s errand. They cannot do it. But they’re going to hold it off as long as possible.

Spoken at the Zodiac Heads ceremony:

Without freedom of speech there is no modern world, just a barbaric one.

(Alexandra Munroe, senior curator of Asian art, Guggenheim Museum, via Roberta Smith on NYT)

Ai’s disappearance is likely part of a crackdown following the Arab spring, which the artist warned Dan Rather about just 10 days before his disappearance. Dozens of thinkers, bloggers, radicals and reformists have been detained. As the PRC refuses to charge or release Ai, it seems more likely that the intention is suppression — to repress a Jasmine Revolution in China. In fact, the Chinese authorities are even taking steps to ban jasmine (see Andrew Jacobs and Jonathan Ansfield’s “Catching Scent of Revolution, China Moves to Snip Jasmine,” New York Times, May 10, 2011), the word and the flower, as if they could suppress inevitable change and progess:

the Chinese characters for jasmine have been intermittently blocked in text messages while videos of President Hu Jintao singing “Mo Li Hua,” a Qing dynasty paean to the flower, have been plucked from the Web…. the police issued an open-ended jasmine ban at a number of retail and wholesale flower markets around Beijing.

For continued coverage, see Eyeteeth, a Minneapolis-based art blog that posts excellent round-ups of news related to Ai Weiwei.


Why bowing to censorship is a bad idea

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts–a briliant funder of the arts–has demanded that the Smithsonian restore David Wojnarovicz’s censored artwork to its exhibition. If the Smithsonian does not comply, the Warhol Foundation will cease funding future exhibitions at the Smithsonian. In the past three years the Warhol Foundation has given more than $375,000 to the Smithsonian.

Cheers to the Warhol Foundation. Sometimes it seems like people in the arts are so consumed with etiquette, so afraid of offending someone or burning a bridge, they haven’t got any guts. Cheers to the Warhol Foundation for putting your money where your mouth is!

This follows a national grassroots movement to exhibit the censored works at alternative art spaces and galleries. Participating spaces include the San Francisco Bay Area’s Southern Exposure and SF Camerawork.

If you are able, please support the work of these amazing nonprofits by becoming members. They are only able to support the work of artists via risk-taking funders like the Warhol Foundation, and individual members like you and me. For further backstory on the homophobic, politically-motivated censorship of this work by a seminal American artist, please see Blake Gopnik’s articles in the Washington Post.


The coming Culture Wars

Think anti-gay bullying is just for kids? Ask the Smithsonian.

That’s from LA Times critic Christopher Knight weighing in on the recent controversy in which the Smithsonian pulled David Wojnarowicz’s video from an exhibition after someone from the Catholic League complained. Subsequently, Republican representatives (who, like the Catholic League instigator, didn’t actually see the exhibit) attacked the Smithsonian and the NEA.

The merits of art–especially contemporary art that does not conform to traditional/conservative tastes or ideals of beauty–ought to be discussed and debated, not censored. By bowing to religious right pressure, the Smithsonian thought it might be playing it safe, but it showed how easily it capitulates. Homophobia is so not cool. And capitalizing on religious backlash to slash the NEA is so tired. Get over yourselves.

Cheers to Blake Gopnik and the Washington Post for their fearless coverage (afflicting the comfortable!) and alternative art space Transformer Gallery in DC and LA gallery CB1 for exhibiting the Wojnarowicz video in question.


In support of Enrique Chagoya

For the past week or so, protesters demonstrated outside of a civic museum in Loveland*, CO. They alleged that an image on exhibit is blasphemous. The print is by satirist Enrique Chagoya, a longtime Bay Area painter and printmaker, and a faculty member at Stanford University. His work concerns politics, religion, colonialism, and consumer culture. As KQED’s Spark artist profile program describes, “Chagoya uses his work to critique the manner in which history has traditionally been written by those nations that have dominated and colonized others.” He is well-respected in the Bay Area art community; I know an artist who applied to Stanford’s MFA program strictly for Chagoya’s tutelage.

Yesterday, the Denver Post reported that a woman entered the museum, broke the plexiglass protecting the work, and tore the artwork. (An art dealer named Mark Michaels claims that he stopped the perpetrator. If this is true, I’d applaud Michaels while reminding us of Philip Zimbardo’s message after testifying at the Abu Ghraib trials: there are no such thing as heroes, only normal people like you and me who listen to their conscience and act.)

Fear-mongering is so powerful in our current political climate, I’d hate to think that museums and curators would consider capitulating to right-wing conservative agendas. Protesting is fine. Censorship is not. Nor is self-censorship. There’s no point to having freedom if you’re afraid to exercise it (not least for fear of controversy or jeopardized funding).

Instead of only acting in times of protest, here’s a letter of support, sent to the Loveland Museum Gallery Director and Curator:

Dear Ms Ison and Ms Corey,

I am writing in support of the Loveland Museum Gallery’s decision exhibit Enrique Chagoya’s work of art, “The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals.”

Enrique Chagoya’s work represents an important perspective deserving of inclusion in museum exhibitions. I do not want artists to pander to audiences or censor themselves to safe, inoffensive content. Neither do I want institutions to waver in their support of risk-taking artists.

I did not agree that the work merited protest—especially by the protestors who didn’t see it, as reports indicated—but I respected their decisions to exercise their freedom of speech. Optimistically, I saw the protest an opportunity to engage in dialogue about art, and about the artist’s intentions, which were in reaction to child abuse in the church.

This potential for dialogue is much different now that Kathleen Folden destroyed the artwork in a shocking and saddening incident. This act of censorship is unacceptable. I am in favor of prosecution to the full extent of the law.

In the face of this controversy, and in media scrutiny that is following, I hope the Loveland Museum/Gallery remains courageous and continues to serve diverse publics and respect the critical faculties of its audience. Those protestors represent one portion of the public; their fears and accusations ought not alter the Museum’s direction.


Christine Wong Yap
Visual artist
New York, NY

CC: Stanford University Visual Art Department, Enrique Chagoya

In response to my email, I received a warm reply from Susan Ison, Cultural Services Director from the City of Loveland. She thanked me for my words of support and said that they will continue to exhibit the seven other codexes by Chagoya.