Ai Weiwei is profoundly, by which I mean probably “too,” polemical.
In an interview on CNN, the artist takes the extraordinary position that, historically speaking, China has neither “humanity” nor philosophical traditions. He is also broadly dismissive of all art produced in contemporary China. The fact that this is rather self-serving position (no art in China but his own) seems not to cross the radar of his interviewers, who are too busy being shocked that life is possible without Twitter, Google and CNN. (That there are alternatives to such news sources in and outside of China does not come up in the conversation.)
In Ai’s own defense, I take his position to mean that even he is unable to really create art due to a combination of philistine viewership and government authoritarianism. But even so, last I checked, I’d say there is a great deal of art going on “in China,” particularly as the equally murky dividing line between “in” and “out” of China further approaches erasure. What, in other words, makes a gallery situated in Beijing but autonomously run and staffed by Europeans and visited almost entirely by European and North American tourists an “in”-China gallery? In fact, such a place is likely to get as many if not more Chinese visitors if situated in New York given that that’s where Chinese people are all headed these days—abroad!
That is, of course, unless one takes to collecting and ciruclating the names of dead children in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, or corrupt officials in you-name-it Chinese city, etc. For these one gets censure in China. Go figure.
But the spirit if not the letter of Ai’s remark is still an important one. His is a strong, independent voice and I do believe that he wants to be joined by other Chinese artists in serious (if often playfully serious) conversations about art and life.