With no irony intended, two reports regarding Chinese art were made on the same day, one being:
Record price set for Chinese contemporary art
$10 million painting boosts Chinese
While the other was that China’s most famous artist, Ai Weiwei, had been arrested and taken away by the police, whereabouts presently unknown. They also raided his studio, confiscated many things, and took away 10 assistants who were held and then released. His top assistant was not released. See this for more information.
Ai Weiwei has recurrently been in the news, for things of various kinds: he was reportedly beaten by Chinese police, causing a brain hemorrhage; his recent installation in the Tate Modern Gallery was closed to its original public you-can-walk-on-it intention when it turned out that as many Chinese products, it emitted toxins; he was partner in designing the Birds Nest Stadium built for the Beijing Olympics, which spectacle he then denounced as a show-biz cover-up of Chinese government oppression. Following ancient Chinese Confucian traditions, the intellectual/artist speaks truth to power, and as usual, gets in trouble for the bother.
While the sale of “Ever Lasting Love” (which looks a painting of dubious qualities) appears to my eyes to be a probable art market manipulation on the part of Belgian collector Baron Guy Ullens, who happens to have a large collection of contemporary Chinese art and is probably looking to, well, collect on it, is a good demonstration of how capitalism has emerged triumphant in China, it is also ironically an indication of how it has failed. Can anyone imagine an artist in the Western or Western-oriented capitalist world being such a threat to the establishment that they would be arrested or beaten for making provocative comments about the government or society? The Western version of capitalist “democracy” is endlessly more effective at co-opting, censoring, or making old Soviet-style “non-persons” of local dissenters. If an artist does not become filthy rich – usually selling glossy crap – then we simply do not hear of them.
In our corrupted culture, those allowed a public face are those who are part and parcel of that culture and their work not only is innocuous, but it celebrates the corruption which is the culture. Anyone who does not fit into this schema is simply banished, ignored by a corporately owned interlocking system of mass media, museums, universities and other institutional systems which function as censors negatively and as cheer-leaders “positively.” When we read about the arts it is equivalent to reading the stock market listings for the day: the talk is all about money, and its corruptions, though naturally they do not say it that way.
In a brief NYTimes item on April 7, 2011, it was announced that the Chinese government has resorted to that old USSR and other dictatorial system standby of charging Ai Weiwei with “economic crimes.” Which usually translates as not paying taxes, or “laundering money” (Sergei Paradjanov was imprisoned by the Soviets for this alleged crime) or other such often nebulous offenses. It is clear that the Chinese government simply wants to shut this man up, and so….