For the last two months, a stack of German newspapers and internet print-outs about the case of Ai Weiwei seems to have accrued first in my bags in Berlin and Paris and then in my offices in Seattle and Tacoma. What a treasure-trove of perceptions and misperceptions, opportunity and loss, of connection do these papers constitute! In a fantasy world that demands little more than internet and newspaper commentaries from the East Asia professoriat, the bulk of these essays would be translated and summarized on this blog, leading rather naturally to a much larger and heavily-footnoted project on the role of culture and politics in the Sino-German relationship.
Teutonic methods demand Teutonic scale, and an endurance for the word and its steady stacking, rather like a city prepares for siege.
The story of Ai Weiwei deserves such stacking, as it represents Germany’s willingness to stand up for the rights of individual artists even as Germany integrates (and competes) with China most skillfully in the economic realm.
And the story extends to the city of Berlin, one of my favorite regular haunts. So, why not add Ai Weiwei’s potential studio in that city to my list of places to go, along with the Music School where cello sonatas are rehearsed, and the Bundesarchiv where documents about things ranging from North Korean cultural ties with East Germany to Japanese reporters in Nazi Germany are hunted down?
Well, because one’s time is perpetually limited, and my best student writer on the contemporary art world has transferred to Whitman College. (O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer!)
Fortunately, other writers and commentators have picked up the ball — or the Han dynasty vase — and are running headlong forward with it in a fresh study of perspective.
Tops among them in terms of consistency and content is the new blog Free Ai Weiwei , hosted on Posterous. This appears to be the ultimate internet resource on all Ai-related news. The site is updated daily (“Day 52,” today’s ominous title) and provides a nice range of links and developments. If “Der Fall Ai Weiweis” interests you in the least, I would bookmark the page and see what it has to offer.
For those who wish not to click, a healthy excerpt from the blog’s analysis should suffice:
We are living in the age where nothing has something to do with something else when it comes to doing business with China. That is the impression you get while reading Artinfo’s interview with Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The VMFA will be the first museum to exhibit its collection in the Palace Museum in Beijing. It was announced only last week.
With Ai detained, should VMFA deal with China?
Asked if this deal with China could not be seen as an endorsement of Ai Weiwei’s detention and “a propaganda coup for the Chinese”, Nyerges answers:
No, never once would that thought have crossed my mind...
On a practical level in terms of the staff, certainly Ai Weiwei’s arrest was a topic of conversation, but quite simply our partnership and relationship with the Palace Museum has nothing to do with the Ai Weiwei situation whatsoever.
Martin Roth, currently director general of Dresden’s State Art Collections and soon to be director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, was asked if it would not be anappropriate answer to Ai’s detention to withdraw the exhibition “Art of the Enlightenment” from Beijing. He answered (paraphrased): A: Ai Weiwei is making a lot of noise all the time, that’s why the media have an obsession with him. B: Without China the production of the Phaeton would have to be closed down. (The Phaeton is a luxurious automobile built by Volkswagen in a factory near Dresden.) A little more blunt and you could think he was in the furniture (or firearm) business.
The notion of Germany’s economic needs as taking primacy over its ability to take a principled stand against Ai’s detention was early on expressed in a furious editorial in Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin, the day after the following article was published in the same forum describing Germany’s total impotence in the case of Ai, indeed, the humiliation inflicted upon Germany’s foreign relations, the tangible slap in the face which Ai’s arrest consisted of in the immediate aftermath — the very afternoon, in fact — of German Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s departure from Beijing after the opening of the massive Enlightenment art exhibit there:
In early May, the immense temporary sculpture “Leviathan,” at Grand Palais Paris until 23 June 2011, was dedicated to Ai Weiwei:
The Guardian further describes the link to “Leviathan,” and the call to close galleries worldwide for a day in protest of Ai’s arrest.
Berlin may have summoned the Chinese ambassador to issue a rebuke last month, but no contracts, or exhibitions, are being cancelled as a result. Not that the CCP is sending thank you notes to Westerwelle, or sitting on its hands in the Sino-German dynamic of mutual criticism.
The respected blog The Peking Duck has a must-read post on a recent People’s Daily denunciation of Deutsche Welle, the German media service.
Was People’s Daily referring to this Deutsche Welle piece about how the German government felt snubbed by Chinese behavior, and the German cultural establishment prompted to debate the merits of exchanges, in the wake of Ai’s detention?
Finally, this Spiegel interview (in English) about Ai Weiwei with an architect whose frame of reference for all of this is bad-old-East Germany will certainly open a few eyes.