Yes Way, Weiwei
I’ve never been to China. But yesterday I went to see an art show at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) in Toronto, featuring the phenomenal work of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (pronounced ‘I Way Way’). Even though I know there’s nothing like seeing a country in person, I kind of feel like this show helped me wrap my head around the character and issues of the nation that packs the most people.
I’m not sure how you say “shit disturber” in Mandarin, but it’s safe to assume that Party officials must use this lingo a lot when referring to their not-so-good man, Ai Weiwei. He’s become a behemoth on the international contemporary art scene and has a knack for giving his home country authorities the finger. Unrelenting in his belief in human rights and the freedom of expression, it’s not surprising the Chinese officials have taken such a grind to him—stripping him of his passport, roughing him up in (unlawful) detention, and generally squeezing his personal freedom. Don’t they know creativity can catch fire under such conditions?
Politics aside, it’s the brute talent of Weiwei’s ideas and artwork that make the biggest statement and provide the most powerful reflection of the condition that is modern China. Just as the population numbers (1 319 175 339 people when I wrote this, but probably a lot more by the time you read it) make me bleary, so too does the detail and craftsmanship in his artwork. Ridiculously precise, awesome in density, and striking in quantity. Walking through the show, flummoxed by piece after piece, I started to get a headache trying to wrap my mind around everything—the scale, the beauty, the history, the complexity, the problems. I haven’t decided whether Weiwei’s work makes me want to go to China more, or less. But it certainly brought me a lot closer.
Charlie digs art as much as he loves travel. It took him a long time to ‘get’ contemporary art, but now he’s hopelessly hooked. Wondering where else in the world he’s seen great art? Call and ask him (416 628 1272).