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Ai Weiwei, White House, 1999
Ai Weiwei, White House, 1999


Oct. 14, 2011

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In the clutter of art magazines, Art Review is no more or less distinguished than any other of the fish-wrappers that come with glossy color pictures and earnest art-critical blah-blah. But the British-published rag does have something going for it -- its annual Power 100 list of art notables, recently issued in its 2011 edition with the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei at the number one spot, as opposed to blue-chip dealer Larry Gagosian, supercollector Eli Broad or museum master Glenn Lowry.

The list remains pointless nonsense, of course, as the magazine itself seems to admit when it describes its prized editorial product with a heavy dose of irony, thusly: “Everyone’s favourite guide to the dancers who’ve spent the past 12 months gyrating around contemporary art’s greasy pole of power.” To juice up the list's people-watching quotient, the mag enlists photographers Juergen Teller, Ari Marcopoulos and Colby Bird to compile a portfolio of portraits.

The Power 100 might be dumb, but it's not that dumb, as it remains reliable headline bait for bored culture reporters everywhere. A glance at Google News shows that hundreds of stories on the annual list have been filed so far, ranging from NPR, the BBC and BusinessWeek to the Daily Mail, the Huffington Post and Animal NY. All the stories are essentially the same -- big news! Gogo out, Ai in! -- though the Wall Street Journal blog does highlight the anti-China aspect of the ranking.

According to WSJ reporter Josh Chin, a foreign ministry spokesman speaking at a regular press briefing condemned the listing as being tainted by political bias. As for Art Review, it is quite right when it claims (in its own fractured prose) that Ai Weiwei's "work and his words have become catalysts for international political debates that affect every nation on the planet." And thus do trivialities like the Power 100 redeem themselves.

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