Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ai Wei Wei @ Mary Boone Gallery

The show is esthetically dry and very conservative. If you are inclined to see a million porcelain sunflower seeds piled into a (maybe) 3 inch high rectangle stand in for the population of China and have security guard hovering next to the piece as the Chinese Government, the work becomes a rather easy visual cliché. Originally at the Tate Modern, the piece was spread out over the floor and the viewer was allowed to walk and in the process crush the seeds, which at least put the viewer in the position of oppressing the sunflowered population of China. But due to the toxic nature of the porcelain dust that crushing created, we get a mass of seed that you can’t crush and are rigorously formed into a sleek presentable form which is guarded over constantly to make sure everything stays in place. The result is completely unchallenging art. Which is a shame, because it is how I feel about most of Wei Wei’s physical art. It always seems simple and conservative, like he is stuck in a loop of perfromative 70’s art.

If only Wei Wei committed to making art as provocateur. The profile piece in the New Yorker was easily the best art he has ever made. Hell, you take the piece from the New Yorker and add some documentation, even some of his less thrilling bowls or installations spelling things with Chinese children’s backpacks, and you have an amazing retrospective.

Wei Wei has made what are easily some of the greatest pieces of political art in our lifetime, by simply investigating things in the open in China, along with his aggressive use of social media. All of it is practical art that involves him pushing back against his own repression, like calling the local cops on national Chinese police that are following him and then video taping the mayhem. It is just brilliant and has reached an audience way beyond museum walls through international news coverage. I guess if making conservative sculptures and installation pieces leads him to cause the occasional international incident when the Chinese government detains him, who am I to complain?

Through Feb. 4th


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