Loading the Canon #23: The Powers That Be

Loading the Canon #23 by Helena-Anne Hittel

The Powers That Be

Ai Weiwei

Iconoclastic Chinese artist Ai Weiwei just can’t seem to catch a break this year. Back in February, Miami artist Maximo Caminero smashed one of the vases in Weiwei’s “According to What?” installation at the Perez Art Museum in protest of the lack of local art in the institution. Inspired by Dropping A Han Dynasty Urn (1995), Caminero picked up a vase and dropped it on the floor. According to an article in the South China Morning Post, this did not amuse Weiwei. The artist famous for smashing thousand-year-old Chinese artifacts told SCMP, “I smashed my own belongings, whereas he broke others’. Behavioral art can go to extremes, like you can hurt yourself for instance, but you cannot hurt others for the sake of art, can you?”

Weiwei is in the news again, this time because of a check on his celebrity. According to The New York Times, Shanghai officials have censored Weiwei’s art and removed him from the 15 Years Chinese Contemporary Art Award exhibition at Power Station of Art, China’s first government-run contemporary museum. Weiwei has won the CCCP in 2008, and juried the first three exhibitions. The show was put together by Swiss art collector and former ambassador to China, Uli Sigg, who considered scrapping the exhibit altogether after learning that Weiwei’s works were not included and that Weiwei’s name was removed from the list of jurors and past winners.

Power Station of Art, it must be repeated, is a Chinese, state-owned museum. Weiwei said that the removal of his works was probably a response to his criticism of the Chinese government. Among these criticisms is the way that China handled the earthquake that rocked Sichuan province in 2008. Shanghai officials also ordered demolition of a studio Weiwei built in 2011.

An artist criticized for expressing himself? Artists, throughout history, have been getting pushed around and put down by governments. Weiwei isn’t under fire for aesthetics. The cultural authorities in Shanghai made it seem to visitors like Weiwei wasn’t part of this event in any way. Sigg chose to air his grievance with the local authorities in the opening comments for the show. However, his input, that one artist could not show in this exhibit, was not translated. Weiwei posted a picture on his Instagram of two taped-up boxes that contain his works for the show–a wooden stool and ceramic sunflower seeds. According to the Times, his works have been stored in the museum’s office.


Helena-Anne Hittel (Episode 35, essay) earned a B.A. in Art History at the University of Central Florida.

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