(Art Rant: because sometimes you just gotta vent!)
Ai Weiwei has the jovial face of a Chinese Santa. Albeit a slightly creepy one. Then again aren’t all Santa’s a bit creepy ? Ai Weiwei’s trade is to denounce. Denounce the way the Chinese government treats dissidents, denounce the way ancient Chinese art is used for political propaganda, denounce his own country’s unyielding rules to the point of becoming a martyr of his own game and getting arrested. That in turn becomes more material to make very effective grand installations, successfully exhibited in important art venues around the world.
True, giving the finger to the (painted) face of one of 20th century’s biggest murderers, or photographing a nymphette (wearing Birkenstocks no less) showing her white undies on Tiananmen square must feel quite good. Denouncing the abuses of a totalitarian regime, even by using shrewd visual effects, is not exactly new and it hardly constitutes the premise of sustainable art. But we, Western society bombarded by narcissistic vacuousness eagerly and greedily want it to matter.
Shameless self promotion is not exactly new either, recent examples abound; Tracy Emin (oh sister, please !) Damian Hirst, (don’t get me started!) Jeff Koons (whom I happen to adore). Are we to assume erroneously that because Ai Wewei is Chinese he would be a little more crude and insensible ?
But wasn’t Marcel Duchamp, the chic looking, pipe smoking chess player of Cadaquès, the ultimate provocateur ? Wasn’t he the one who got this whole mess started with his exquisitely funny LHOOQ, and Rrose Sélavy. To say nothing of his pissoir or bicycle wheel, thus throwing a series of extraordinarily stupefying bombs in the face of early 20th century convention. The French humorous contrarian was onto something. Something that has sustained the test of time and free our minds to question.
Why, pray tell, do we put Ai Weiwei’s eruptions into the “art” department ? Because, merci Monsieur Duchamp, we have now been trained to understand that when you take a common/usual element, fact or event and bring it out of its habitual context, we accept that it can be considered in a different manner, a new interpretation process is awakened. Dear Marcel started it more than 100 years ago, so the concept has had time to become accepted as natural in our minds. This way art performs its own transubstantiation. (had to use that word!)
So, where does one draw the line? apparently nowhere as Mr. Weiwei seems to tell us in his use of little Ilan’s tragic death. To denounce Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis, Mr. Weiwei has himself photographed face down on a beach just as the little boy from Syria was horrifyingly found.
I suppose after the tepid and lovely bourgeois pleasing renditions of Chinese dragons at Le Bon Marché in Paris, (Aah, the mellifluous lure of LVMH millions!) he needed to get back in the media circus with something more in tune with his idea of self relevance.
And so, again, he has won, in shamelessly raping an atrocious personal and public tragedy for his own promotional purposes, Ai Weiwei is back in the news and Google algorithms everywhere percolate his name to the top of the list…