The next time you run into a young artist in Williamsburg or Chelsea, a slightly built nerd or slacker, notice how much he or she resembles Hu Jia, the mild-mannered intellectual just sentenced to 3½ years in prison in a one-day trial by the Chinese government for "criticizing the Chinese Communist Party."
Then consider American Olympic softball player Jessica Mendoza, who recently announced, in spite of her outspoken opposition to Chinese government support of the Sudanese regime’s genocide in Darfur, that she did not want to criticize her hosts when participating in the upcoming Beijing Olympics. Also consider the report in the New York Times last week that young artists in the Chinese academies are now career-oriented and not interested in politics and that Xu Bing, whose work long criticized Chinese government propaganda, has returned to China after decades as an expatriate.
Also in the Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof tries to draw an equivalence between the Chinese and American systems in a plea not to boycott the Olympics. Nerd dissidents in jail, murdered Tibetan monks, the absence of a judicial system and free elections: these are not an equivalence. What is happening in the art world is that Chinese contemporary art is now a mere, but lucrative, tool for Chinese hegemonic oppression in Tibet, Sudan, the aisles of Wal-Mart and the rich environs of Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
It is time to do more than just boycott the Olympics opening ceremony, and Roger Simon and Ron Rosenbaum, bloggers at Pajamas Media, a politically savvy Internet portal, have, with the help of hundreds of writers, including your correspondent, started soliciting ideas, mostly focusing on product boycotts of large American Olympic sponsors like General Electric, similar to what the United Farm Workers successfully accomplished a generation ago under Cesar Chavez.
Collectors: do not buy contemporary Chinese art until the Chinese government relents in Tibet and frees its courageous dissidents. Chinese artists are part of the problem, a smokescreen for a cruel dictatorship. And check out Pajamas Media to enter into discussions about what else can be done to shut down the Olympics.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).