Ai Weiwei: "Wonderful dissident, terrible artist"

In The New Republic, Jed Perl writes about Ai Weiwei: the man, the activist, the artist. "The trouble with most critiques of political art is that they pay too much attention to the politics. This is not to say that an artist's politics do not matter; not at all. But the great challenge today, at least for those who find themselves in a museum wanting to take full advantage of what an art museum has to offer, is how deeply the artist is exploring the means that are available. Therein lies artistic freedom." (HT: @tobinharshaw)


    1. that review was perplexing at best– i’m critical of reviews that don’t meet my aesthetic/political standards, based on made-up criteria i’m using to stimulate page views…. i should edit the New Republic!

  1. Fortunately, true artists do not allow themselves to be defined by critics. Unfortunately for critics, writing about artists does not truly associate the critic with, or elevate them to the level of the artist.

    To learn more about Ai Weiwei, I recommend “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” It’s on Netflix.

    1. Art and criticism are symbiotic, and this is necessary. Imagine one without the other. Critics are sometimes artists as well, and some of the best criticism attains a level of artistic achievement that surpasses the source material. Those who dismiss the utility of criticism – Kevin Smith, hothouse flowers, and half the subjects of the articles in The Source magazine, for example – are usually worried about ego, the quality of their work, or money.

      Even students know this. Every art, writing, or photography course has built-in time for criticism, because it’s an indispensable part of the artistic process, and of the ensuing conversation. That discussion that is kinda the whole point of art.

      I’m not familiar enough with Ai’s work to have an opinion about his art either way, but I’m a fan of the ways in which he frustrates censors and totalitarians.

  2. Except that Ai’s art is reasonably good. I saw a large exhibition of his sculputure in Taiwan about a year ago, and came away fairly impressed. His photography was definitely pedestrian when you strip away the politics, but his sculpture felt quite inspired.

  3.  His photography is political though so it doesn’t make any sense to “strip away the politics”

  4. Dear Jed Perl,

    Your opinion means absolutely zero to me and anyone with a critical eye. Sorry, but you’re tired and irrelavent and trying to stir up controversy by attacking Ai WeiWei only underscores this point, in fact, I hate to resort to name calling but seriously you suck! Go do something, anything, then tell me about it and until then please STFU sir! Yes I’m being pedantic and I’m craping on you the same way you just crapped on Ai Weiwei from time to time we all need a taste of our own “medicine”.

  5. Funny how absolutely none of the previous comments deals with the criticism itself. It’s as if we all are supposed to bow to an “artist” who is on the outs with the government of a country who is our official enemy in the West. But then we have always been at war with Eastasia.

  6. I like AiWeiWei and his politics very much. But like many contemporary and hot Chinese artists that also delve in politics, a lot of the work is hardly imaginative and sometimes (not with the case of AiWeiWei) one wonders how much of that political activism is used just to be vogue and appeal to a Western audience. These ‘politart’ tend to be big and bombastic but not very good otherwise. For instance, Cai Guo-Qiang has plenty of artwork like Tiger Slayings which in itself would have just been an exhibition of not very well made paper mache animals that were speared. One can make up an elaborate story to make a piece look good, but the pieces itself don’t have much to stand on in itself.

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