Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Is It Art?
In what must seem as an addendum to my prior comments on art and artists, I expanded my experience by visiting an exhibit of one of the more famous dissident artists in the world. This is his first U.S. exhibit which was successful on its first stop at the Hirshhorn Sculpture museum in D.C. I am, of course, writing about Al Weiwei who is "waiting" for China to return his passport. He was unable to attend the opening of this exhibit months ago, although over 200 diplomats from around the world were there to see it.
Whether one considers his work art, a statement of dissident symbolism or moments of Zen interspersed with his black and white photography, I was drawn to each piece and it left me thinking about art and humanity. Could he be as famous an artist without the repressive government in China motivating him and giving him fame is a question made by some. He lived in the U.S. for twelve years and returned to China where he became more interesting and more motivated.
In repressive China he has been arrested, beaten around the head (photos of the x-ray of the head concussion are part of the exhibit) and thrown in jail. He has also had his newest studio bulldozed. He currently faces charges on tax evasion. He has won international awards and fortune which makes it awkward for the government to keep him out of the public eye.
I feel that China is a bomb of youthful energy and ideas waiting to explode. When, not if, this happens, the global community (art, finance, health, etc.) will be forced to sit up and take notice.
The first work of art that you see when you arrive at the museum is outside in the courtyard. It is the Zodiac of animal heads (12 bronze heads) that stand outside the Hirshhorn museum...an over-sized re-creation of twelve bronze animal heads that once adorned the Zodiac Fountain in Yuan Ming Yuan, the Old Summer Palace, in Beijing before being destroyed by British diplomat James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin after the Opium wars. The history of this destruction includes burning people alive and looting. This is a perfect example of Weiwei's desire to connect the ancient with the contemporary and to connect art and politics.
"The original heads had been made by Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), an Italian Jesuit who, while living in China, had executed commissions for the Chinese emperor in the 18th century.
In other words, Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist who has been considerably influenced by Western Postmodernism and who lived and studied in New York for over a decade, had recreated works made by a European who had lived and worked in China in the 18th century. What had spurred Ai Weiwei to make another Zodiac?" John Seed
It gets even more complicated from here. Questions are raised on authenticity, value, and who owns art anyway? Just today CNN reported on some wall graffiti/mural by the now in-demand street artist Banksy being stolen right off the side of the building on a London street!