Fresh Paint – Aaron Fung

It is interesting to think about the other things artists are known for besides their art. Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist, is also an architect and activist. He has been famous for speaking out against China’s repressive regime. Ai Weiwei started a critical blog in 2006 that was shut down in 2009 by Chinese authorities. He was in conflict with the Chinese government many times, including being beaten by the police in 2009 and being imprisoned for 81 days in 2011. He has characterized his meddling with the Chinese government as a kind of performance art.

Ai Weiwei was in Beijing before he went to New York in 1981 and lived in East Village. There were protests of housing rights, which added to his political awareness. He attended the Parsons School of design, where he took thousands of photographs. The pictures show him to be an ambitious person who was aiming for something. He returned to China in 1993 and also took a lot of pictures of the neighborhood in Beijing that called itself the East Village. At that time, he mainly used his camera as his artistic tool.

Ai Weiwei’s activism can be seen through his art, which are in a gallery that was recently opened. The exhibition is in Hirshhorn Museum, located in Washington, and it is called “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” The Hirshhorn show classifies Mr. Ai as “one of China’s most prolific and provocative contemporary artists”. He makes great art and makes great use of it as a public intellectual and social conscience. Of the many pictures he took in New York, about 100 of them are in the exhibition, which show his friends, demonstrations, and random incidents on the street.

The exhibit in Hirshhorn museum shows how irrational life is under totalitarianism through sculptures and pieces from the last decade. They follow the tradition of the Duchamp ready-made, where objects are modified that then become art.
Many works have a background that need to be read or known beforehand in order to understand the origin behind the work. For example, “Kippe” is a large block made of scraps of lustrous wood that are actually from dismantled Qing dynasty temples. Another piece is a large snake coiled on the ceiling made up of backpacks that represent the thousands of children that died during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Ai Weiwei wanted an investigation about that because it caused poorly built schools to collapse while surrounding buildings survived.

There is always a history to an art, which adds value to it and can enhance the meaning. Is art more meaningful or ‘better’ if it contains a historical or controversial event? Do you prefer if an art piece didn’t have a specific origin or history to link the meaning to? Do you prefer paintings or sculptures? I have no preference between the two. I find Ai Weiwei’s art to be very significant to current events in China, which adds to its value. An artist’s history should never be ignored when analyzing art, since it influences his or her art, with respect to the type, content, and meaning.

The Hirshhorn show will travel to the Brooklyn Museum in April 2014, which I would be willing to check out, after I looked at some of the pictures. Maybe other people will find it interesting too.

10 thoughts on “Fresh Paint – Aaron Fung

  1. Surprisingly, I have actually heard about Ai Weiwei when i visited the Asia Society and Museum few weeks ago. Both Ai Weiwei and Lin Tianmiao (the artist of the current exhibition at the museum) were members of the group that left the perilous time in China.
    I definitely think that art is more meaningful if it contains a historical or controversial event. I prefer art pieces with history link to it more, because the history background actually helps me in my understanding of the piece. Like the dragon displayed above, knowing about the causalities caused by the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, i can actually connect with the piece. The historical background of art not only makes the piece more relatable but also more valuable.

  2. I think this is a very interesting topic to focus on. It’s always fascinating to me how different people use varying ways to express their views and act on them. Ai Weiwei seems like an admirable artist who is using his art to express his views against Chinese oppression. Some of the events that Ai Weiwei is protesting against are very sad and meaningful issues such as the schools that collapsed during the earthquake because they were poorly built. Hopefully, his art can bring about attention to these issues in a new and different way.

  3. I believe this is a great topic to segue into the modern dispute over abstract art versus realism or art with historical background and meaning versus art without. I think the historical background and event brings realism and authenticity to the art form whether it be a painting or a sculpture, but at the same time with abstract art I can’t undermine the other aspects of art appreciation. Art without the historical background and meaning in a way gives freedom and doesn’t dictate how I interpret and what I feel about the art. It is definitely a tough decision between the two art forms and I think there shouldn’t be a decision made here because there are many people that support both types of art.

  4. Art definitely has more meaning when it portrays historical or controversial events, and I believe people would tend to appreciate this kind of art more since there is already an established meaning behind the work of art. From personal observation, I’ve noticed that my friends and family don’t have much of a response to abstract or modern art, since the piece would just appear as randomness to them. But they do respond to art that portrays events in history or facets of life, because they have something concrete to relate the piece with. They see messages or meanings more clearly from this kind of art because of its concreteness, which allows them to enjoy the art more. With modern or abstract art, there’s nothing concrete to work with, so it’s difficult to put the art in any kind of context, which makes it difficult for observers to enjoy.

  5. I remember reading about Ai Weiwei before and he is truly an inspiration. He is a very prominent social activist. He openly criticizes the Communist Party in China and is a target of surveillance from the government. When he spoke out about the SiChuan Earthquake in 2008, I remember reading that the government used some excuse to shut down his art studio. His response to the Communist Party after that was posting a picture of his middle finger on his blog.

    I really like the picture you posted of Ai Weiwei’s snake composed of backpacks is creative and it acts as a reminder of the lackluster and corrupt Chinese government with the construction of school buildings. It is nice to see that people are willing to speak up against injustice in the system.

    On a happier note, here’s a video of Ai Weiwei performing Gangnam Style. 😀

  6. Art is a form of expression. For me, having historical context or significance behind a piece of art only adds to experience of viewing it. In respect to Ai Weiwei, I find his form of art to be very intriguing. Photos, especially those that depict the harshness of reality, are very powerful and evoke many feelings from the people who see them. Not only does he use photos, but he also creates art using multiple mediums. The symbolism in his artworks and their relevance to current events are very deep and profound. Even though takes more effort to decode the hidden messages behind his artworks, it is rewarding in the experience of finding and learning the truth about China and its corruption.

  7. I think that art without any link to historical events or controversies isn’t any less valuable than or worse than art with a link. However, I do think that art with a link to the past can often be more interesting because it has more easily decipherable meaning behind it. I personally prefer artwork that has some sort of historic meaning and I generally prefer paintings to sculptures.

  8. I feel that art, when used as a form of protest and to advance one’s own opinion so as to induce change, is a very powerful tool. Ai Weiwei can really bring the domestic problems in China into focus at a time when everyone seems to be concentrated primarily on the Middle East. Since China is a growing superpower, we would do well to acknowledge their problems and try to find a solution to them. Ai Weiwei is a good proponent of change in China.

  9. I think it’s really cool how Ai Weiwei is using his art for political protest. He’s a great example of the impact of art outside of the artistic world. Its very admirable how he continues with his activism although he has to go through such hardships for it, but that’s what someone has to do for art to change politics.

  10. Ai Weiwei is a great example of an artist who used his artworks as a tool for political protests, which contributes to the meaning behind the painting. However, I personally think do not think that artworks are more meaningful if it is related to history or any controversial occurrences. Many artworks are of random things that artists randomly decide to create. If everything must have “meaning” and historical background, then everything will become dull meaningless.

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