Ai’s nude pictures are well known. The series has been ongoing, with famous leaping poses being, according to The Australian, perhaps a major factor in leading to his arrest. (To be clear, not the offense of nudity, but the “fuck your mother” suggestion which is implicit in the presence of the toy horse held in front of his privates.)
Given the perhaps not-so subtle message of the previous, the following, more recent in-company-of-others work is certainly intriguing. Any opinions concerning how we might read this image are most welcome.
For the full longevity of the naked series, though, we can go further back, to Manhattan of the 1980s, where it would appear Ai first started his practice of stripping down and posing for a camera. In this case he is clearly at risk of arrest, and it seems gleefully so. According to Yan Li, (with whom he is pictured), this was typical of Ai’s state of mind at the time, irreverent, wild, reckless:
(image courtesy of Yan Li, published also in 事务是他们自己的象征 (Edited by Norman Spencer, 2005)
Cumulatively, we get a picture of the man, so to speak, which reveals a consistent, even obsessive tendency to expose himself. This returns me to an earlier post wherein I question the boundaries of art, activism, self-promotion, particularly for a globalized artist like Ai. Ai is a self-proclaimed Andy Worhol enthusiast, and there is indeed a Worhol-esque quality to the play which seems constantly at work in these images and elsewhere. But the political seriousness of these antics, which have now either come to fruition or come to claim their price (his freedom) depending on point of view, is not at all like Worhol. What strikes me most about Ai in the buff over time is how little the strategies have changed.