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Ai Weiwei at Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany, in 2007
Ai Weiwei at Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany, in 2007


May 18, 2011

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The detention of artist Ai Weiwei on unspecified charges by Chinese authorities has become a worldwide controversy, but is it having any effect on the thriving art market in China? The answer would seem to be “no,” at least judging by Art HK, the Hong Kong International Art Fair, May 26-29, 2011, now in its fourth year, which has attracted 260 galleries from 38 countries, as well as sponsorship from Deutsche Bank.

Artnet Magazine correspondent Charlie Finch called for an art-world boycott of the Chinese art market in a column posted on Apr. 18, 2011, and the sentiment seems to be growing. The London-based Art Newspaper raised the issue on May 13, 2011, noting that “despite criticism of the Chinese government over Ai Weiwei’s arrest, galleries are still happy to show in Hong Kong.”

The Art Newspaper cited a British blogger with the comely moniker Cathedral of Shitas proposing the boycott. In a more recent entry, the blogger notes that it wasn’t a boycott he (or she) was talking about, but rather the notion that publicly supporting “Ai Weiwei’s cause and then jetting to Art HK to capitalize on his increased notoriety might be. . . er. . . a little. . . hypocritical.”

Even more hardcore is Roger Buergel, the curator who invited Ai Weiwei to Documenta in 2007. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Buergel said that most of the art world is “glad to be rid of Ai Weiwei,” due to envy of his success in bridging art and politics. Most artists are “producing works that amount to nothing more than footnotes,” Buergel says, while Ai Weiwei’s intervention in Chinese society “makes 98 percent of the art world look very, very old.”

Ai Weiwei’s arrest is a political crime, Buergel says. Artists should take inspiration from Ai Weiwei, and put pressure on German politicians -- perhaps by tying themselves to the German Chancellery.

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