Even if you’re not a major art buff, you’ve probably heard of Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and social activist who will be speaking with Time magazine editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal Wednesday night at Aspen’s Isis Theatre, following a free 5:30 p.m. showing of his 2017 documentary film “Human Flow.” He’s one of the rare artists whose fame transcends his work, landing him squarely in the realm of global celebrity.
A vocal critic of the Chinese government, Ai has achieved international recognition as much for his political happenings – including a 2011 arrest in Beijing and 81-day jail stay for alleged economic crimes – as his major works, which include the famous “Bird’s Nest,” the Beijing National Stadium where the 2008 Olympics opening ceremonies were held.
Currently a resident of Berlin, Germany, and having lived in the U.S. from 1981-1993, Ai finds himself in an enviable position from which to juxtapose various belief systems, be they political, social or artistic. Informed by this viewpoint and spread across a wide variety of media, much of Ai’s work – giant stadiums aside – seeks to expose society’s ills, investigate wrongdoing and inspire positive steps.
When his passport was returned after years of arrests, detentions, harassment and surveillance in China, the first places Ai Weiwei went were at the chaotic crossroads of the global refugee crisis.
The artist and activist has spent the last several years with migrants, trying to tell their stories and to mobilize the world to help them. Ai believes in art’s ability to shape the world and change the tide of history.
“If art can change how man sees his relationship with society, then it does change society,” the Chinese dissident said in a recent email interview.
This week, Ai will speak in Aspen and Snowmass Village about his work as an artist, filmmaker and refugee advocate as Anderson Ranch honors him with its International Artist Award.
In this special closing event for Turn It On: China on Film, 2000–2017, join cocurators of Art and China After 1989Alexandra Munroe, Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art, and Philip Tinari, Director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, as they reflect upon their curatorial experiences and address broader themes in the exhibition and film series that touch upon China from 2007 to the present. The discussion will be moderated by Andrew Solomon, award-winning author and president of PEN America, copresenter of Turn It On. A screening of Ai Weiwei’s Fairytale (2007) immediately follows.
$20, $15 members, $10 students. Refreshments will be available for purchase in The Wrightfrom 5:15–6:30 pm.
Directed by Ai Weiwei艾未未
Mandarin with English subtitles, 153 min.
In 2007 Ai Weiwei took part in Documenta 12 with a participatory event called Fairytale, after the Brothers Grimm who were born in Kassel, the German city that hosts the famed art exhibition. Ai invited 1,001 people from China, many of whom had never been abroad before, to travel to Germany, live in a dormitory of Ai’s design, and freely wander the city and the exhibition. Ai’s studio recruited the applicants from the Internet. He also sent 1,001 Ming period–style wooden chairs, which were arranged throughout the exhibition hall as gathering spaces. Fairytale opens with the project’s inception and takes us through its full enactment, recording the experiences of participants of all backgrounds to create a series of portraits woven together by a single event.
Organized by the Guggenheim Museum in conjunction with Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World. Presented in collaboration with PEN America. Support is provided by The Hayden Family Foundation. A program of the Sackler Center for Arts Education.
“Precipitous Parturition,” by Chen Zhen, hangs high over the Guggenheim Museum’s rotunda. The dragon’s body is woven from cast-off bicycle wheel inner tubes; toy cars are packed within its belly. Credit Vincent Tullo for The New York Times