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August 16 2012

Les communistes (chinois) à la plage

Réunions secrètes, rencontres improvisées, affaires gênantes soigneusement glissées sous le tapis, mais aussi plage et ciel bleu... le Parti communiste chinois (PCC) a une façon très particulière de préparer son prochain congrès. La date officielle n'en est toujours pas connue, mais les délégués, eux, sont déjà élus. Et avant la grand-messe qui aura lieu à Pékin (« au cours du second semestre », dit-on officiellement, à la mi-octobre selon certaines sources), le parti veut faire place nette. Il s'est (...) - Planète Asie / Chine, Communisme, Justice, Parti politique, Ai Weiwei

August 11 2012

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – review

The American documentarist Alison Klayman had unequalled access to Ai Weiwei during the time he was working on the Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and staging his large So Sorry exhibition in Munich, and her excellent film is a lively, informative, funny and inspirational portrait of a courageous, charismatic, highly original man. He comes across as a gregarious, unpompous, comic version of the Soviet dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Drawing on interviews with his wife, mother, brother, numerous people from the art world in China and elsewhere and the man himself, Klayman deals with every aspect of his career as architect, photographer, conceptual artist, social critic, blogger, tweeter and gadfly extraordinaire.

The movie is equally good on his formative childhood and adolescence in exile to a distant part of China as the son of the despised modernist poet Ai Qing, as well as on his 12 years in America where he developed his art, had his first one-man exhibition, and literally gave the finger to the Chinese government with the famous photograph that has a raised middle finger in the foreground and Tiananmen Square in the background. The account of his work in exposing the cover-up over the student deaths during the Sichuan earthquake is deeply moving (as is the dedication of the young people who assisted him). The indignation one feels over the vindictive bureaucrats who framed, persecuted and jailed him is tempered by the wit and humour with which he responded.

His defiant art is often extremely funny. There are several heartbreaking moments, such as his 78-year-old mother expressing her pride and concern, and some beautiful images such as Ai walking across the hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds in the Tate's Turbine Hall accompanied by his little son. The film ends with the words "Never Retreat, Re-tweet", a characteristically pawky variation on the battle cry of the American socialist martyr Joe Hill, "Don't Grieve, Organise". © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 09 2012

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – review

A documentary reveals the remarkable Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to be a mysterious, opaque figure, but there's no denying the power of his actions

The ghosts of Tiananmen Square 1989, and maybe Grosvenor Square 1968, are revived in this engrossing documentary by Alison Klayman about Chinese artist and democracy campaigner Ai Weiwei, who became widely known in the UK with the spectacular Sunflower Seeds installation at Tate Modern in 2010. For years, until the Chinese government chillingly decided on the demolition of his Shanghai studio and an 81-day detention without trial in 2011, ostensibly on tax charges, Ai Weiwei had seemed almost immune to state harassment, due to his chutzpah, his international fame and the very fact he was an artist. The authorities perhaps believed – to paraphrase Auden's line about poetry – that conceptual art makes nothing happen. But his art was making a lot happen: it was brilliantly insisting on creativity and freedom, and made compelling political statements – perhaps chiefly his Citizen's Investigation into the Sichuan earthquake. This was simply a moving and monumental list of people killed in 2008 by the collapse of shoddy and unsafe government buildings; the list is an ongoing, continuously updated work in progress. Part artwork, part memorial, part journalistic campaign, it was conceived in defiant riposte to the authorities who refused to release clear figures. Ai Weiwei himself is a rather mysterious, opaque figure, but utterly confident and unafraid of state bullies. He is heroic.

Rating: 4/5 © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry - video review

In an extract from this week's Guardian Film Show, Xan Brooks, Catherine Shoard and Peter Bradshaw review Alison Klayman's documentary on the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei

August 06 2012

Art and the City. Public Art Festival in Zürich West

Art and the City is a public art festival that runs from 9 June until 23 September 2012 in Zürich West, a district in Zürich (Switzerland) that has undergone a dramatic transformation in the recent years. To experience this up-and-coming city district of Zürich, Art and the City invited more than 40 artists and artist groups from all over the world for an exhibition that includes sculptures, installations, performances, posters and interventions. This video takes you on a rather subjective and selective tour of the exhibition on 1 August, the Swiss National Day (which explains the empty streets and the rubber dinghies).

The exhibition includes artists who have been addressing issues of urban development since the 1970s such as Richard Tuttle, Fred Sandback, Yona Friedman and Charlotte Posenenske, as well as a younger generation of artists such as Christian Jankowski, Oscar Tuazon, Los Carpinteros, and Ai Weiwei.

Art and the City has been initiated by the Public Art Task Force (Arbeitsgruppe Kunst im öffentlichen Raum). The exhibition has been put together by the freelance curator and writer Christoph Doswald.

Art and the City. Public Art Festival in Zürich West. Zürich (Switzerland), August 1, 2012.

PS: As part of the Art and the City Public Art Festival, walking artist Hamish Fulton performed one of his slow walks along the Limmat river, called Limmat Art Walk Zürich 2012.

> Right-click (Mac: ctrl-click) this link to download Quicktime video file.
> On YouTube:

Photo set:

Artists and works in order of appearance in the video (for a complete list of the participating artists visit the Art and the City website):

Taiyo Onorato / Nico Krebs: Kameras (3), 2012
Richard Tuttle: The Pump (2008)
Bettina Pousttchi: Ahead Only, 2012
Franziska Furter: Mojo, 2012
Christian Jankowski: Die Grosse Geste, 2012
Oscar Tuazon: A Lamp, 2012
Charlotte Posenenske: Vierkantrohre Serie D (2), 1967/2012
Pierre Haubensack: Netz, 2011
Not Vital: The No Problem Sculpture, 2012
Paul McCarthy: Apple Tree Boy Apple Tree Girl, 2010
Arcangelo Sassolino: Elisa, 2012
Karsten Födinger: Untitled, 2012
Wilfredo Prieto: Apolitico, 2001
Manfred Pernice: Orion_Renaissance, 2012
Valentin Carron: Ca-Tarac-Ta, 2012
Marjetica Potrc / Eva Pfannes, Sylvain Hartenberg (OOZE): The Public Space Society, 2012
Frank Stella: De Schouw, 2012
Vaness Billy: Lifting the Earth, 2012
Saâne Afif: The Soapbox of Schiffbauplatz, 2012
Alex Hanimann: Vanessa, 2012
Los Carpinteros: Catedrales, 2012
Thomas Houseago: Hands & Feet III, 2011
Ai Weiwei: Sofa in White, 2011

Related Articles:


July 30 2012

Letters: No room in the Olympic family for genuine sports fans

My 12-year-old daughter, a member of three sports clubs in Newham, started saving Christmas and birthday money to buy Olympics tick ets. Two weeks at home in the Olympic borough would replace an annual holiday. We spent hours trying  to make a purchase. Our saving and time spent clicking were rewarded with not a single ticket.

This frustration was compounded when we saw rows of empty seats just half a mile from our home and then discovered that at least a fifth of seats are reserved for the Olympic family and their corporate friends (Army brought in to fill seats, 30 July) . The ticketing process is seriously flawed and designed to ensure that those who make a profit through encouraging obesity prevail over those who want to see and learn from their role models. So much for the commitment to "inspire a generation" and "create step change in sporting participation".
Simon Shaw
Stratford, London

• Empty seats filled by soldiers, teachers and schoolkids? Potemkin seats?
Mick Furey
Maltby, Rotherham

• Against a fall in sales pre-Olympics of 6.5% year-on-year, the last two weeks has seen a drop of 26% and last week a drop of almost 38%. Other shops have experienced a similar collapse in sales. Warnings of congestion in central London have made the area a ghost town. How many shops will survive until the end of the Paralympics on 9 September?
Nigel Kemp

• One reason that the opening ceremony delighted so many (Letters, 30 July) is that, in an age shaped and limited by politicians and marketing people, this was the vision of an artist.
Nigel Richardson

• Was Commander Bond employed to guard the Queen before G4S was found wanting, or was he part of the troops brought in to make up the shortfall.
David Walker
Dudley, West Midlands

• We deplore the article by Ai Weiwei (China excluded its people from the Olympics. London is different, 25 July). People around the world have strong memories of Beijing four years ago. The Games were more successful than many expected. They have left a profound legacy for China. The huge contribution to the international Olympic movement is globally recognised. China's careful preparations and high efficiency won applause from across the world, including the IOC.

The entire Chinese nation showed enormous enthusiasm and interest. They actively participated: 1.7 million volunteers busied themselves. Their smiles were sincere, their participation spontaneous, their hard work selfless. Ai's opinions by no means reflect the true feeling of China's 1.3 billion people. We wish the London Olympics a great success. At the same time, we will not let the Beijing Olympics be diminished or China be falsely accused.
He Rulong
Chinese embassy, London

• I keep getting confused between the main paper and your Olympics supplement.
Chris Faux
London © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 28 2012

Olympic opening ceremony: Ai Weiwei's review

The leading Chinese artist who withdrew from Beijing's opening ceremony explains why London's was very different

Brilliant. It was very, very well done. This was about Great Britain; it didn't pretend it was trying to have global appeal. Because Great Britain has self-confidence, it doesn't need a monumental Olympics. But for China that was the only imaginable kind of international event. Beijing's Olympics were very grand – they were trying to throw a party for the world, but the hosts didn't enjoy it. The government didn't care about people's feelings because it was trying to create an image.

In London, they really turned the ceremony into a party – they are proud of themselves and respect where they come from, from the industrial revolution to now. I never saw an event before that had such a density of information about events and stories and literature and music; about folktales and movies.

At the beginning it dealt with historical events – about the land and machinery and women's rights – epically and poetically. The director really did a superb job in moving between those periods of history and today, and between reality and the movies. The section on the welfare state showed an achievement to be truly proud of. It clearly told you what the nation is about: children, nurses and a dream. A nation that has no music and no fairytales is a tragedy.

There were historical elements in the Beijing opening ceremony, but the difference is that this was about individuals and humanity and true feelings; their passion, their hope, their struggle. That came through in their confidence and joy. It's really about a civil society. Ours only reflected the party's nationalism. It wasn't a natural reflection of China.

Few of the people were performers. They were ordinary people who contribute to society – and if there is a celebration, then it should be for everyone from the Queen to a nurse. I feel happy that they can all have their moment to tell their story.

It was about real people and real events and showed the independent mind of the director, but at the same time it had so much humour. There was a strong sense of the British character.

The Chinese ceremony had so much less information and it wasn't even real. It wasn't only about the little girl who was miming – which was an injury to her and the girl whose voice was used – but that symbolically showed the nation's future. You can't trust or rely on individuals or the state's efforts.

In London there were more close-ups – it didn't show the big formations. It had the human touch. In Zhang Yimou's opening ceremony there was almost none of that. You could not push into a person's face and see the human experience. What I liked most with this was that it always came back to very personal details. And that's what makes it a nation you can trust; you see the values there. Anyone who watched it would have a clear understanding of what England is. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 25 2012

Ai Weiwei: power games

Ai Weiwei withdrew from the Beijing 2008 Olympics opening ceremony and was declared a threat to the police state. Here he explains why he hopes the London Games will be different

The Olympic Games are highly commercialised. They purport to follow the traditions of an ancient athletics competition, but today it is the commercial aspect that is most apparent. I have seen how, through sport, cities and corporations compete against each other for financial gain. The Olympics are beholden to the wishes of various commercial operations, which in turn shape our understanding of the event and of the world. They are no longer connected to the idea that humanity can be expressed through athletics.

In China, the Olympics have always served as a tool for propaganda. China uses its gold-medal count to affirm its position in the world order and its strength as a nation. Many other countries have the same attitude. But flaunting gold medals, in the guise of fighting for a country's glory, is done at the expense of many lives. For one, athletes sacrifice their physical and emotional wellbeing for this vanity. This is a tragedy in itself.

I don't believe in the so-called Olympic spirit. I speak from personal experience. When China hosted the Games, it failed to include the people. The event was constructed without regard for their joy. The state and the Olympic committee failed to take a position on many major social and political issues. Afterwards, the state tightened its controls; China became a police state. "Friendship, fair play, glory, honour and peace": the Olympic slogan is an empty one.

My memory of the Beijing Olympics has not changed. It is a fake smile, an elaborate costume party with the sole intention of glorifying the country. From the opening to the closing ceremony, from the torch relay to the cheers for gold medals – these all displayed the might, and the desperation, of a totalitarian regime. Through authoritarian power a country can possess many things, but it cannot bring joy or happiness to its people.

I see the Beijing National Stadium as an architectural project. I accepted Herzog and De Meuron's invitation to collaborate on the design, and our proposal won the competition. From beginning to end, I stayed with the project. I am committed to fostering relationships between a city and its architecture. I am also keen on encouraging participation and exchange during mass events that are meaningful for humankind.

I have no regrets about the role I played; the stadium is a work of great quality and design. I only withdrew from participating in fake performances laden with propaganda. I disagreed with the approach, and did not want my name associated with it. The Beijing opening ceremony had no sensitivity for the Chinese people; it even had the police force dancing on the fields. This is the fantasy of a totalitarian society. It was a nightmare.

By publicly announcing that I would not participate in the opening ceremony, I became a minority, an alternative voice. To the media, I have become a symbolic figure, critical of China. According to the government, I am a dangerous threat. I only expressed my personal opinion of an occasion that many people are passionate about. Unfortunately, such an occasion has no room for differing stances. Mine posed a challenge to the Games themselves. What did I say? Only that I didn't like the government propaganda. I don't feel obliged to approve of it.

I don't watch TV. I did not watch the Olympics last time; I am not very interested in watching it this time, either. I have no interest in activities that are dissociated from the emotions and struggles of everyday people. I enjoy watching any kind of competition – but it must be carried out in fairness, adhering strictly to the established rules. Any competition that cannot demonstrate fairness and abide by a set of openly acknowledged regulations violates civil society. It is also in conflict with the principles of human, social and legal rights.

I have visited London two or three times. I have good impressions of the city. It has a strong and natural continuity with its traditions. At the same time, people enjoy their lives and the city is full of culture. It was a pleasant experience to work with the Serpentine gallery, as well as Herzog and de Meuron, on this summer's pavilion. From the response, I can see that Londoners are very savvy about art and architecture. Tate Modern is also a unique cultural institution, a standard-bearer for quality contemporary art and activities.

I am interested in seeing what the 2012 Olympics has done to London, but I am not free to travel. If I were free, I'd like to see how people will respond to the event, and how members of a different society, living in different social conditions, will participate in the Games. I don't know how London will cope, but I believe it will be more relaxed than Beijing. In London, the people will be able to participate in and celebrate the joy of the Games. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 22 2012

Jenny Saville, Yoko Ono and Ai Weiwei – the week in art

Saville is out to show she's the feminist Freud, Ono divulges her hopes, book tips and snapshots, and Ai Weiwei is barred from his own court hearing – all in your weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Jenny Saville

Is this painter of pungent flesh a feminist Lucian Freud for the 21st century... or an overblown media phenomenon? Saville has a striking style, but critics have never agreed on the quality of her work. Big red blotches of pigment do not guarantee brilliance. Here is a chance to make up your mind about an artist who straddles fine art and pop culture.
· Modern Art Oxford, from 23 June until 16 September

Other exhibitions this week

Edvard Munch
One of the true giants of modern art brings a Scandinavian chill to the British summer.
· Tate Modern, London, from 28 June until 14 October

Diane Arbus
The extremes of pathos and mockery in this photographers' art epitomise the power of photography itself.
· Timothy Taylor gallery, London, from 26 June until 17 August

John Currin
Freaky paintings to amuse and appal.
· Sadie Coles HQ, London, until 18 August

Karla Black
Last chance to catch a show by this recent Turner nominee on her home turf.
· Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, until 24 June

Masterpiece of the week

Rembrandt, Girl at a Window

Is she a servant, a courtesan? The gold chain around her neck suggests sensuality and is typical of the way Rembrandt glorified women. Whoever she is and whatever relationship – if any – she may have had with the painter, this young woman lives forever in his art.
· Dulwich Picture Gallery

Image of the week

What we learned this week

That Ai Weiwei grows ever more convinced of the need to stand up to Chinese authorities – after he is barred from his own hearing

What Yoko Ono's top book tips are, what her personal photo albums look like – and how she answered your questions

That the Stirling prize shortlist this year is chock full of austerity chic

Who Turner shortlister Luke Fowler has taken as his latest film subject

How Chris Ofili has found collaborating with the Royal Ballet – backdrops, bunions and all

And finally

Have you uploaded anything to the Guardian Art and design Flickr page yet?

Or shared any of your art with us?

Do you follow us on Twitter?

Or on Facebook?

Have you seen our Tumblr?

Have you signed up for the Art Weekly newsletter? © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 20 2012

Ai Weiwei barred from court hearing by Chinese police

Dissident artist says police warned him to stay away from court hearing on company's lawsuit against Beijing tax authorities

Police in China have barred the artist Ai Weiwei from attending a hearing on his company's lawsuit against Beijing tax authorities, and blocked filming at the courthouse..

Ai told reporters police had ordered him to stay away from the court, and that he complied.

Chinese authorities detained Ai for three months last year and his design company was ordered to pay 15m yuan (£1.53m) in back taxes and fines in a penalty interpreted by activists as punishment for his criticism of the authoritarian government.

The company has appealed against the fine and separately filed a lawsuit that accuses the tax bureau of violating laws regarding the handling of witnesses, evidence and company accounts in the case.

Ai said police have not explained why he was barred from the hearing.

"This society has become a scary and dangerous one now, because there are too many things that violate people's rights and that happen with no explanation," Ai said.

Ai's wife, Lu Qing, who is the legal representative of his design company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd, attended with lawyers and an accountant. It was the first hearing in the case, and details were not revealed on Wednesday.

Plainclothes and uniformed police were stationed outside Ai's home and studio in north-east Beijing, registering journalists who turned up to interview Ai and report on the case. Ai argued briefly with them and demanded to know why they were interrogating his visitors. Reporters were also blocked from filming at the courthouse.

Liu Xiaoyuan, a legal consultant who has been staying at Ai's home, was missing after being taken away by police on Tuesday night, Ai said.

Rights activist Hu Jia claimed he was prevented from leaving his Beijing home to attend the hearing on Wednesday and in the evening was beaten by three men he described as plainclothes state security officials as he tried to leave the premises. They grabbed him by the collar and wrists, choked him and punched him, Hu said.

Since he emerged from detention last year, Ai has been refused permission to travel and is under constant surveillance. He still frequently criticises the government on Twitter, which is blocked in China but accessible to tech-savvy citizens. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Ai Weiwei's lawyer missing as artist is warned away from tax hearing

Chinese dissident being told not to attend court as it considers his challenge to a fine for alleged unpaid taxes

The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has said police are warning him to stay away from the court hearing on his lawsuit against a tax agency, which he accuses of illegally fining his company 15m yuan (£1.5m).

Meanwhile Ai's legal consultant, Liu Xiaoyuan, has been unreachable since he was told to meet state security officers on Tuesday night, according to Ai and one of his employees, Liu Yanping. Liu Xiaoyuan did not answer calls to his mobile phone.

Beijing's Chaoyang district court agreed last month to hear the lawsuit from the company that markets Ai's work, a departure from the courts' consistent refusal to give dissidents any hearing.

His supporters say the tax case, due to be heard later on Wednesday, is part of the government's drive to muzzle the outspoken social critic.

Despite the court's acceptance of his lawsuit, Ai told Reuters that police called him repeatedly on Tuesday afternoon warning him not to turn up at the courthouse. "'You can never make it. Don't even try,'" Ai, 55, said police told him. He said they gave no reason.

"This nation can have anything, they can have a satellite that goes to the sky and the moon, but they can never give you a clear reason why," he said. "This is ridiculous, right? There's no conversation, no discussion. Maybe they don't even know the reason. It's a really mysterious nation."

A subsequent tweet from Ai Weiwei's Twitter account at @aiww said: "Ai Weiwei Studio was assaulted when filming 30 police cars outside. Video camera damaged, staff injured."

Another sarcastically thanked Beijing police for sending out so many officers and police cars "to protect Ai Weiwei's studio, in Caochangdi. and prevent unknown forces from interfering with judicial order."

A woman who answered Ai's phone confirmed that large numbers of police were still present and said the artist was not injured but another person at the studio had been.

Earlier, Ai had retweeted a photograph showing him in a - rather too small - police uniform.

Security officers have instructed prominent dissidents to remain in their homes and stay away from the hearing.

Chinese courts are strictly controlled by the ruling communist party and rarely accept lawsuits filed by dissidents or their relatives.

The company's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, told Reuters on Tuesday he hoped for a fair trial. "The price that the authorities will pay for blatantly violating the law is now too large," he said. "This case has always been a fabricated case."

Ai was detained without charge in April 2011 and held mainly in solitary confinement until his conditional release the following June. The artist has been a persistent irritant to authorities and parried efforts to silence him, communicating with his supporters on Twitter and calling for a public forum to discuss his tax case.

Government efforts to muzzle Ai have frequently backfired, as demonstrated by an outpouring of public sympathy – and cash – in response to the tax penalty. About 30,000 people donated money to help Ai cover an 8.45m yuan (£0.8m) bond required to contest the tax charges.

"We simply have to ask [the authorities]: what can they achieve by this? Do you think this nation should be ruled by law?" Ai said. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 07 2012

Pressure grows on China to investigate activist's hospital death

Thousands sign petition over alleged suicide of Li Wangyang, imprisoned for 22 years after Tiananmen Square crackdown

Online petitioners have stepped up pressure on China to investigate the death in hospital of a labour activist after he spent more than 22 years in jail for his role in the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing.

Li Wangyang, who was only released from prison last year, was found dead in a hospital ward in Shaoyang city in Hunan province on Wednesday, his neck tied with a noose made from cotton bandages. Authorities said it was suicide.

He was being treated for deteriorating health, but details were not available. The group Human Rights in China said Li lost his sight and hearing as a result of torture during his years behind bars.

"We saw that his body was still hanging by the window, and his two feet were clearly still standing on the ground. But they [hospital staff] did not let us get near him … Then they dragged his body away," Zhao Baozhu, Li's brother-in-law, was quoted as saying by Human Rights in China.

As of Thursday afternoon, 2,700 people had signed an online petition, including prominent Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, scholars, lawyers and writers who called for an authorized forensic investigation.

Li had been one of the first Chinese activists to push for independent labour unions in China, but was punished after the 4 June 1989 crackdown for his participation in the pro-democracy movement.

Li's death comes after the high-profile case of blind activist Chen Guangcheng, whose escape from village confinement and subsequent flight to freedom in the US became a diplomatic flashpoint and raised global awareness of China's poor human rights record.

Hong Kong's Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said a number of rights activists, lawyers and citizens had arrived in Shaoyang to assist the family in its bid for justice, but many were unreachable and had probably been detained by authorities.

"It's very difficult to accept the official explanation of events," said Wen Yunchao, a prominent Chinese blogger and journalist now based in Hong Kong who helped initiate the online petition.

Several dozen activists and lawmakers in Hong Kong protested outside Beijing's liaison office, carrying white flowers.

Just last week, Li had said in a television interview that he'd never regretted his fight for justice.

"The souls of the martyrs deserve to finally find some peace," said Li, referring to the Tiananmen Square protests and the subsequent crackdown in which hundreds, if not thousands, were killed. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 31 2012

Ai Weiwei misses opening of his Serpentine pavilion

Chinese artist is not allowed to leave China but sends message thanking collaborators Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron

Ai Weiwei is one third of the creative team which has designed the 12th summer pavilion for London's Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, but the artist was glaringly absent from its unveiling.

The 54-year-old artist is still not allowed to leave China following his arrest and detention last year. In lieu of the real thing, the gallery screened a message from Ai in which he expressed gratitude for the invitation to renew a collaboration with the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.

"I have worked with Herzog and de Meuron on several projects," said Ai. "We have very good communication and each collaboration is very meaningful."

The pavilion unveiled on the gallery's small lawn is a landscape in cork. Visitors walk down cork floors beneath the lawn and can sit on cork mushroom-shaped chairs. Above them is a floating platform roof which collects water and becomes a mirror, reflecting the changes in the London sky.

The pavilion has become one of the most interesting annual architecture commissions and has seen designs by superstar names including Zaha Hadid, Oscar Niemeyer, Frank Gehry and, last year, Peter Zumthor.

This being Olympic year, the Serpentine chose to invite the three men responsible for the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing.

In a design statement, Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron said they wanted to investigate the 11 pavilions which had gone before them "like a team of archaeologists".

Ai said: "As an artist, I am always very interested to put art, design, architecture and social change together to make new possibilities. For this Serpentine Pavilion, we tried to study what happened before and we also asked ourselves why we need to make a new design for this event. We focused on memory and the past. We made a study to dig into the meaning of this total act and from that a very interesting result came out, which I think gives this pavilion a new meaning."

Jacques Herzog said they were extremely pleased with the result given they only had a few weeks to get it up. "Some times small works require as much energy on the part of the designers and creators as large works and for us it has always been very important that we work on different scales.

"It is not new for us to work with Ai, we've been involved with projects with him for 10 years. It is a natural thing. Okay, working via Skype is not ideal but because we have such a friendship we can do it and it felt good.

"It is nice that we can reflect the sky of London, which is so lively."

The Serpentine's director, Julia Peyton-Jones, admitted it was something of an achievement to get the pavilion up at all after the rain in April. It opens to the public on Saturday and will be in place for three months as a venue for events, talks and a fundraising party. The pavilion has been bought by the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal and his wife Usha and they will take ownership at the end of the summer.

Ai has become a symbol for human rights activists in China since spending 81 days in custody last year – much of it incommunicado – on tax avoidance charges many say are trumped up.

He is able to work but not yet leave China, and his ordeal has had the opposite effect to which the Chinese authorities wanted, with Time Magazine naming him runner up in their Person of the Year list and Art Review placing him first in its Power 100list last year. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 10 2012

Warhol Double Elvis sells for $37m at Sotheby's auction

Roy Lichtenstein's Sleeping Girl and Ai Weiwei's Sunflowers attract record prices at Sotheby's contemporary art sale in New York

Andy Warhol's Double Elvis sold for $37m (£23m) and works by Roy Lichtenstein and the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei broke their own records at Sotheby's contemporary art sale on Wednesday.

Lichtenstein's Sleeping Girl, depicting a woman with closed eyes and flowing blond hair, fetched $44.9m; Weiwei's one-tonne, handmade porcelain Sunflower Seeds brought $782,500.

Warhol's Double Elvis (Ferus Type), a silver silkscreen image of Elvis Presley depicted as a cowboy, fetched $37,042,500. It had been expected to sell for $30m-$50m. The auction house said it was the first Double Elvis to appear on the market since 1995. Warhol produced a series of 22 images of Elvis. Nine are in museum collections.

Elvis is shown armed and shooting from the hip, with a shadowy and faintly visible double in the background. It was offered for sale by a private American collector, who acquired it in 1977.

The record for a Warhol is $71.7m for his Green Car Crash Green Burning Car I, sold at Christie's in 2007.

Another major work on the auction block Francis Bacon's Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror sold for $44,882,500. The buyers' names for each of the four pieces were not released.

The sale came on the heels of art auction history. Last week the auction house sold a version of Edvard Munch's The Scream for $119.9m, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.

"The reason for these record-breaking sales is, quite simply, the quality of material on show," said Michael Frahm, a contemporary art adviser at the London-based Frahm Ltd. "The key is quality."

Lichtenstein's Sleeping Girl was one of a series of sexy comic book-inspired images created by the artist in the 1960s, The work was exhibited only once at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1989-90. It was sold by the estate of Los Angeles collectors and philanthropists Beatrice and Phillip Gersh, who were the founding members of MOCA.

Lichtenstein's I Can See the Whole Room! ... And There's Nobody In It! held the previous auction record for the artist. It sold for $43.2m at Christie's in November 2011.

Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds was one of an edition of 10 and was accompanied by a certificate signed by the artist. The ceramic seeds, which can be arranged in myriad shapes, were the subject of a Tate Modern exhibit in 2010. The previous Weiwei auction record was $657,000 for his Chandelier, set at Sotheby's in 2007.

Bacon's Figure Writing, which depicts the artist and his partner, George Dyer, writing at a table, was included in a 1977 Paris exhibition alongside Triptych, a 1976 work by the artist that sold for $86.2m at Sotheby's in 2008. It held the record for any contemporary artwork at auction until Tuesday night when Mark Rothko's Orange, Red, Yellow claimed that title when it sold at Christie's for $86.8m.

The Elvis silkscreen was exhibited at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1963, the year it was created. The auction catalogue described the work, based on a movie publicity photo, as "the deification of a contemporary warrior-saint, the towering, pre-eminent idol bearing a deadly weapon as if protecting the mythical world of celebrity itself". © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 08 2012

Serpentine pavilion goes underground with Ai Weiwei and Swiss architects – in pictures

This year's Serpentine pavilion, designed by Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron, will take visitors below the lawn of the London gallery into an underground maze of contoured cork

April 27 2012

Ai Weiwei thinks inside the box

Ai's work, a cactus and a crab, goes on display for a month at a micro space in the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London

After the vast emptiness of the Turbine Hall, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei will on Friday fill a London space that could not be more of a contrast: a white cube that is precisely 40cm by 40cm by 40cm.

Ai's work, a cactus and a crab, goes on display for a month at a micro space in the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London. "It is a very exciting moment for us," said Houldsworth. "He is a very inspirational person. We want to do anything that can help him and anything that can help get his message across."

The artist is prevented from leaving China by the authorities but is not in jail after his release last year. Ai was jailed for three months on suspicion of "economic crimes", although his family and supporters say it was retaliation for his social and political activism.

He is keen for people to make their own interpretation of his latest work, called A Living Sculpture, but it is hard not to read parallels between the piece and the artist's own situation. There is the living cactus – hardy, resilient, prickly – surviving in a confined space under the glare of a spotlight. Then there is the small crab with its nasty claws, making a move on its spiky partner.

The gallery has had to source the cactus, an Echinopsis, which turned out more tricky and time-consuming than it expected.

"It was not that easy at all," said the gallery's Carsten Recksik who spent a large part of last month on the telephone trying to find a suitable specimen. "Ai was very specific on the variety. I was calling dozens, hundreds of garden shops. I'm not really into plants but I am a bit now – it's fascinating."

The result is a 15-year-old cactus, they think. "It's difficult to tell," said Recksik.

The space is a kind of black incision in the wall within which there is a suspended, brightly lit box. "We commission emerging and established artists to do whatever they want in the box," said Houldsworth. "Whether they want to do a conceptual piece or want to take it away to work in their studio or paint on it. It is a terribly difficult space but very exciting."

Ai, who is a cacti collector, came to the attention of the wider British public when he filled Tate Modern's Turbine Hall with 100m porcelain sunflower seeds. His work will also be on display this summer when he designs the Serpentine Gallery pavilion with the architects Herzog & de Meuron, with whom he collaborated to design the Beijing Olympics' Birds Nest stadium.

• Ai Weiwei's A Living Sculpture is at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, 27 April - 26 May 2012. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 17 2012

Letters: The web's new world order

The British people fought wars and went through a great deal of civil strife to construct the form of democracy we currently have. Thus there is nothing wrong with our government seeking to ensure that within its national boundaries activity in cyberspace conforms with its laws. The alternative proposition, that the law of the internet is coterminous with the decisions of the US supreme court, is unacceptable everywhere except the US.

The internet of course is magical and wonderful. But we should not have to put up with all the bad stuff in order to benefit from the good. By failing to deal with significant levels of online crime, I'm afraid the high priests of the internet industry, of whom Sergey Brin is most certainly one, have created the situation of which he and they now complain (Web freedom under threat – Google founder, 16 April). It may not be too late to halt or reverse some of the processes Brin is anxious about, but time is running out and laissez-faire will not cut it.
John Carr

• I recently replaced a defunct mobile phone and, a week in, find that the new phone's default settings included backing up "application data, Wi-Fi passwords and other settings to Google servers". Is Mr Brin a suitably qualified glasshouse stone-thrower, or does the above sit uncomfortably with Google's previous sniffing for Wi-Fi networks while making photographic surveys?

Internet freedom must rely upon a sea of small providers rather than disproportionate control by nations or global corporations. I will be looking to remove other Google services from my phone.
Mike Brown
Newcastle upon Tyne

• "Internet freedom" is just a vehicle for transnational corporations such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook to impose their ideology of rightwing libertarianism on the world – strident capitalism, no taxes, no government, no community. They are a threat in the same way as Murdoch has proved to be, but for some reason we talk about them as if they were the post office or the library.
Dr Stephen Dorril
University of Huddersfield

• Ai Weiwei's comments on the power of the internet to achieve freedom (China's censorship can never defeat the internet, 16 April) remind me strongly of the prescience of your former Communist affairs correspondent Victor Zorza (died 1996). I recall the characteristic enthusiasm with which he told me, almost certainly as far back as the 1970s, that he was convinced that fledgling information technology would prove to be a death knell for totalitarian regimes. As your other articles demonstrate, however, this is not quite so straightforward a matter, given the partially successful attempts at censorship in today's authoritarian countries. But the general conclusion still holds, as Ai Weiwei suggests. Once the monopoly of information slips out of the hands of the rulers of such countries, political consequences are bound to follow sooner or later.
Peter Roland
Bognor Regis, West Sussex

• Russia's alarming restrictions on internet freedom, including the imprisonment of pro-democracy bloggers (Nervous Kremlin seeks to take back control, 16 April), are inconsistent with its membership of the UN Human Rights Council. When he first became president in 1999, Vladimir Putin promised to defend freedom of speech. When he returns to the post next month, Putin would do well to honour his word – and that of his country.
Hillel C Neuer
Executive director, UN Watch, Geneva

• Re your editorial (14 April), New South Wales police have set up a social media community engagement project called Eyewatch. Each of our 80 local area commands has a Facebook page. Each day, police publish local crime issues and crime prevention tips. We are now formulating neighbourhood watch closed Facebook groups across the state so communities can be in touch with police whenever they want to. Our pages have attracted 93,000 fans and over 30m page impressions. Crime is being solved; communities and police are working together to identify problems and create community solutions. This programme – applying the Peelian principles to the 21st century – could be easily adopted in the UK.
Chief Inspector Josh Maxwell
Manager, Project Eyewatch © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 29 2012

Ai Weiwei refused public hearing for tax case

Chinese authorities say Ai's company owes 15m yuan for allegedly evading tax

Chinese authorities have told dissident artist Ai Weiwei he will not be given a public hearing to reconsider a 15m yuan (£1.5m) tax evasion penalty allegedly due from the company he works for. Ai denounced the move on Thursday as "inconceivable".

Supporters of Ai, whose 81-day secret detention last year sparked an international outcry, have said the tax case is part of Beijing's efforts to muzzle China's most famous social critic.

Ai, 54, told Reuters by telephone that he received the notice, dated 23 March, from tax authorities on Tuesday. It said Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd, which has helped produce Ai's internationally renowned art and designs, will only be given "a written hearing" and not a public trial.

"I think this is inconceivable," Ai said. "Our lawyer said: 'Which country in the world doesn't dare to face their own taxpayers?'"

"We can't understand the problem. I can only think that anything that cannot be made public is due to embarrassment at making it public," Ai said.

"As the people who've been charged, we aren't afraid of making it public. But as a country, how can you be afraid of being transparent?"

Beijing tax authorities were not immediately available for comment.

Ai paid a bond of 8.45m yuan last November - all contributions from tens of thousands of supporters - that allowed him access to an administrative review of the tax evasion charges. He told Reuters then that he was pessimistic about successfully contesting the charges.

The company's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said written decisions are legal, but are "a bad sign" because they usually uphold the original decision of the case.

Pu said the authorities have not shown him any original documents with evidence of the alleged tax evasion and held a closed hearing last July.

Pu said it was illegal for them to do so. Ai was barred from attending, but his wife, Lu Qing, was present.

"All these circumstances have led me to firmly believe that the handling of Ai Weiwei's company's [case] is a form of persecution, and that the tax authorities are helping the public security organs do their work under orders," Pu said.

Ai was detained without any charge in April and held mainly in solitary confinement until his conditional release in June.

But the artist has ignored efforts to silence him and has instead become a rallying point for China's dissidents and activists since a government crackdown last year brought a wave of detentions and arrests.

Ai had collected more than 9m yuan, that he says he will return, from about 30,000 donors, for the tax penalty. The tax authorities have until the end of April to give Ai a decision on the administrative review of the case, Ai said. When he was released on bail last June, the government said Ai remained under investigation on suspicion of economic crimes.

Ai said previously that he had not received a formal notice to explain "suspected economic crimes". © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 05 2012

Tate buys eight million Ai Weiwei sunflower seeds

The 10 tonnes of porcelain sunflower seeds are only a 10th of the number that covered the floor of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall

The Tate has acquired approximately 8m individual sculptures, its largest number of works of art ever, although each is smaller than a little finger nail: 10 tonnes of Ai Weiwei's famous porcelain sunflower seeds.

There won't be enough to cover the floor of the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall in London, as in the Chinese artist's installation in 2010, where the first visitors romped deliriously on a gritty beach until within 48 hours it was roped off, the ceramic dust condemned as a danger to health.

Sunflower Seeds 2010, the work that the Tate has bought, represents less than a 10th of the 100m seeds, all individually sculpted and painted by Chinese craft workers, used for the installation.

Instead the artist has suggested the seeds can be arranged either laid out as a square or, more dramatically, as a cone five metres in diameter and one and a half metres tall – as they have been displayed at Tate Modern as a loan from the artist from last June until earlier this year.

The Tate acquired the work with the help of a grant from the Art Fund charity, but has not revealed the price. However, at a Sotheby's auction last year a similar quantity soared above the top estimate and finally sold for just under £350,000, or £3.50 per seed.

Ai Weiwei has become China's most famous living artist not just for the internationally admired quality of his work, but for his troubles with his native country, where he has recently faced house arrest, investigation for "spreading pornography" and the demolition of his studio. The Chinese authorities have charged him with tax evasion, but most commentators are convinced their real problem with him is his outspoken defence of human rights and criticism of China's treatment of dissidents.

He is collaborating with the architects Herzog & de Meuron, the design team responsible for the bird's nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, to create this summer's temporary pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, London. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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