27 September 2015

Where there's a will there's an Ai Wei Wei at the Royal Academy.

Entrance to the Royal Academy. Trees assembled from fragments by Ai Wei Wei.
 European and American artist have been loosing 'street-cred' for decades now, their protests more akin to a pout than a call to arms  Thanks to the likes of Tracy Emin,  Damien  Hirst and other luminaries, the whole art-as-commerce or art-as-selfie thing is as stale and bloated as it is fodder for tabloids. Look at Bansky, already fetching high sums at auction,  his graffiti  no more than  a highly choreographed event or a gift-shop staple.  We can go on and on with the list of artists desperate for a cause, itching for a fight or too keen on having their doodles printed on a necktie.

So, as a consequence,  the art world cabals have searched high and low to find someone that can replace their darlings.

Because art can't just simply be beautiful - I am aware that is another form of political statement so spare me-  its 'content'  has to be explained  through politics or personal tragedy, or something along those lines.  I am not saying depression,  domestic violence or the measles are not serious. I am not denying capitalism as we suffer it is a  true competitive arena subject to fair equitable rules. Far from it. But it helps when there is, in fact,  a government that beats you up,  puts you under surveillance and messes things up for you in various violent, dumb and uncreative ways. Walk in Ai Wei Wei, The People's Party is your bitch.
From S.A.C.R.E.D. a huge diorama depicting episodes of  his ordeal

The Chinese government has fucked up this man's life into the stratosphere ...of fame.  If anything, the exhibition at The Royal Academy demonstrates the amount of money and manpower  that Ai WeiWei can summon with a simple maxim in his famously sparse grunting.  He is a star and despite my diatribe, let me hurry to point out I loved the exhibition. More for the questions if creates than for the artwork itself. I even got tears in my eyes when confronted to the rebar pieces of "Straight", a massive 90 ton installation honoring the victims of the Seichuan earthquake and condemning the greed, corruption and  the criminal ineptitude of Chinese officials.

Ai WeiWei is a charismatic man, no doubt. When he ventured into New York as a younger man he really -really- absorbed the trends and ideas reigning in the Western art world. In a way, he has been doing what most  Saatchi pet wannabes and suck-ups  have been dreaming of for years. With a crew of skilful craftsmen no less.
"Stroller" carved in marble.

May be that is why so many of his pieces are accumulations:  3,000 porcelain crabs, 60 hand-chiseled marble pieces of grass, thousands of painstakingly straightened rebar pieces, etc... If you have been to an art gallery recently, it is very likely that you have experienced this tendency to pile up crap and then conjure a meaning: "Oh, my dad used to hit me with the slippers so here, a million slippers in a pile". Ai WeiWei does that. But he does it well, as if to preclude any more lame strewn piles of shit in the future. If you've seen one of Ai Wei Wei's gatherings of rubble, you will never find time for  another mindless heap of tuna cans or human hair balls  in your life.

"Chandelier' Glass and bycicle frames.

More interesting is the use -obsession really-  of recycling Quing dynasty furniture or rubble from China's destroyed past into a new life using armies of craftsmen. (How does he pay them? I wonder. In fact, how does he make money?)  Some of this recycling has been controversial as in his deliberate destruction of a Quing dynasty vase and the pulverization of neolithic ceramics into fine dust. I can come up with many different explanations for this acts, all very satisfying, but they all hurt a bit despite it all. Mostly it comes down to a lot more people aware of that shattered vase now than ever before.

Quing Dinasty Stools re-assembled.
May be his most successful dare -in my view- is the  chiseling and conjoining  of beautiful objects rendered useless. Ai WeiWei is Chinese through and through and the idea of beautiful uselessness is pervasive as in the stroller delicately carved in marble, the jade sex toys, the delicate porcelain human remains or the oddly assembled  antique furniture. The overwhelming impression is that of a man in an enormous factory with thousands of workers at his disposal dreaming up his poetic artworks because, to me, they are closer to poetry than to the visual arts. And with his poetry I have no qualms. However, it still feels a bit suspicious that such a persecuted man could muster this power in the land where the powers that be want him quiet. Could the PP really abide by popular opinion to such a large degree? As I said, more questions...

"Straight" rebar pieces recovered from Sichuan buildings destroyed in 2008