Now that the corrupt Chinese government put its greatest artist, Ai Weiwei, under house arrest for daring to hold a party to mark the same government's destruction of the million-dollar studio the same government commissioned (if they weren't a matter of life and death, these occasions, which have included a severe beating of Ai by the cops, would make a fine Jacques Tati or Will Ferrell absurdist film), what should the reaction of elite Western art institutions be?
Will they take their cue from the Obama administration, which should have cancelled the January visit to the U.S. of running lackey premier Hu Jintao, after he ordered the jailing of peaceful Novelist Liu Xiaobo, for daring to pen a simple letter pleading for the human rights promised by the Chinese Constitution?
First, let's get the main issue out of the way: the Chinese Communists are a wafer-thin paper tiger. Want proof? This "power" over a billion people goes out of its way to jail one (ONE!) artist or writer for daring to resist it. Every day, empty tanker barges leave Seattle, only to return full of Chinese-made goods and depart empty again. For this, Hu and his fellow leftists collect U.S. debt. This is the definition of powerlessness.
President Obama need only cancel our outstanding debt to create revolution in the streets of Beijing, just as our art elitists need only to cancel their elitist deals with China to free the courageous Ai. Let me spell it out: Arne Glimcher, show some balls and get Pace out of China; Christie's, cancel your Hong Kong sales; Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum, cease all curatorial relations with the Chinese elites.
More than once, I have argued, in this space and in ArtsAsiaPacific magazine and other forums, that incrementalism with regards to the Chinese Communist elites is about as effective as incrementalism with the Nazis: to wit, appeasement endorses further repression, not freedom. Any kid quickly learns this in the schoolyard. Our elites, however, are too busy pursuing business to care about Ai or Liu, fools in their eyes, heroes in ours.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).