The Arrest of Ai Wei Wei directed by Howard Benton at the Hampstead Theatre just closed on its way to the West End and Broadway. Ai Wei Wei is also working on his (yes, you are reading properly’ rock album and to back all this with a little bit of art, because after all that is what he is supposed to do, he is creating ‘a major work for this summer’s Emscherkunst triennal art festival (22 June-6 October) that took place in the Ruhr region in Western Germany. I personally think that Ai Wei Wei is an opportunist and a manipulator and I have been saying this for almost two years. As an artist he is inexistent although Tate Modern did not hesitate to give him the Serpentine to spread seeds that proved to be dangerous for the viewers. Apart from his health and safety lack of consideration,  he is a very bad artist with no real work to show.

After This Banalisation of Art and Human Rights: What is Next?

I have to give him something though. He knows how to gather himself with other top level manipulators of public opinion and they together are masters in the manipulation of the the mores of an increasingly reactionary middle class that seems to feel so guilty about, probably, having surpassed their parents’ success through the purchase of a mortgaged house or something like that, that found in Ai Wei Wei their new (how to call it) emotional cash point. It is in that space between trauma and social responsibility that Ai Wei Wei Corporation profit. The problem is that they do not stop and they go for more and in the process they are corporitising and banalising the very notion of human rights.

Ai Wei Wei: The Play

In ‘Ai Wei Wei: The Play’. Dramaturge Howard Benton’s Ai Wei Wei’s play draws on Ai’s secret conversations with the author Barnaby Martin after his release in June 2011 following international pressure. Brenton uses Ai’s experiences while detained for nearly three months in a stripped-out hotel and then a military base to explore artistic defiance, human rights and political tensions in the complex landscape of modern China. Ai is arguably the perfect subject for the 70-year-old British playwright. Alongside fellow Left-winger David Hare, Brenton made his name in the Seventies and Eighties writing state-of-the-nation plays that tore furiously into conservative values and political idols, railing in comedy and satire against the apparatus of state and media oppression.

To begin with, in Brenton’s words, he reveals that this “very special job” was Ai’s idea: “Barnaby contacted the Hampstead and they contacted me.” As such, he feels a great responsibility towards the artist to get it right. “All the interrogation scenes are either verbatim from him, a slight elaboration or edited only a bit,” he stresses. As we can see, the manipulation starts from the very beginning with Ai Wei Wei asking his conversations to be turned into a play.

Why Are We Disrespecting The Chinese? Is The West Any Better?

Brenton tells The Telegraph that he admires Ai Wei Wei’s actions which, honestly, I still do not get. As far as I am concerned his in prison for tax evation. Where does he pay taxes, by the way? Brenton goes even further and says (without having any idea what he is talking about) that ‘it’s his ethos as a conceptual artist, who once subverted Cultural Revolution-era imagery of devoted mass conformity by scattering individually crafted porcelain sunflower seeds across Tate Modern’s turbine hall. Where most Western conceptual art, with its unmade beds, is “all about me, me, me”, Brenton argues, “Ai Weiwei is interested in the world and other people.” And from smashing a Han dynasty urn to posting a Gangnam Style parody on YouTube, his “throw it out there” attitude defies Chinese state control and propaganda’. This is rather interesting because Tracey Emin’s sense of ‘me me me’ with her bed has more profound social implications that this rather adolescent rant about not doing what a responsible citizen should do. What amazes me about Ai Wei Wei is how he managed to convince the world of the fact that he actually has a point and if that is the point what is the world doing trading with China and opening art galleries there? This is all so wrong that I would call it corporate articulation of guilt. It is as if Ai Wei Wei were designed for us to enjoy on plays and movies during the weekend to carry on feeling guilty about our ongoing hyprocrecy.

A Very Dangerous and Manipulative Man

I think Ai Wei is pure manipulation. My experience trying to buy his work for collections I represented showed me a side that is far from immaculate. The guy is greedy and is determined to get not gentlemanly  very easily with the justification of the ‘people’s cause’. Very much like Mao, if you ask me. The difference is that, at least, Mao came with an agenda of constructive modernism. It was profoundly optimistic that attempt of a cultural revolution. Ai Wei Wei approach to life is deeply saddened by the inherent lack of trust that a market culture promotes. Howeve, he does not behave according to the rules of the market but alters them like a tyrant, or…an author. He is an opportunitist that speculates with the speculation about him. Making price and value collapse he gets away with it, mostly, when his visible faces are ambitious posh-ish boys in their early 20s. So democracy becomes a crust of a slogan in the mouth of Lisson Gallery. Instead of throwing myself to monarchism, once again I am ready to fight back and deconstruct with calm the humanitarian practices of a sort of artistic humanitarianism that only cares for Panerai and Masseratti.

Lisson Lost Its Plot

Lisson loves lecturing collectors about how to be a better person with the help of art.  What they really do is to transform greed into holiness through a sort of transubstantiation. What is the excuse? What Ai Wei Wei gets is for the cause of the Revolution. But hold on, hold on!!! I thought he was going against the revolution. Lisson does not move one muscle and allegorised in a female figure a la Minerva says to me: A revolution against the revolution, now pay!

This ideology was evidenced firstly when, in 2011, they organised the exhibition with him in prison. In that context, I was invited to a VIP-lunch where I took a former friend of mine and Patricia Hernandez, wife of the deputy Spanish Ambassador to London. I finished eating and having an uneventful chat with a rather elegant chap that happened to represent Mario Testino’s collection and headed to the heir of the Lisson throne, Mr.Alex Longsdail. He said upfront with that face that is a mixture of fear and total contempt that, as a matter of respect for the inhuman situation that the artists was going through the pieces were not on sale. I said, well so why are you still having the show or in other words: why the hell are we here? I did not understand why they didn’t create another, less passive aggressive action. Why wasn’t Nicolas Longsdail, his agent fasting in front of the Chinese embassy. This was all too bourgeois and neglige. So suddenly, Alex said: ‘the exhibition is not on sale but we receive ‘expressions of interest’. I loved that euphemism. Lisson was playing hard ball. They were not just a bunch of lucky bastards after all.  And I added: ‘Can you tell me how much are those expression of interest’? To my shock, he said 120k, 200k, 300k, without a muscle moving on the surface of his hairless complexion.

I finally managed to secure it for John but, for the first time, he had money problems and started being unclear.  But John was not being clear and he was still explaining this change as a change in taste not as my problem with his daughter. Problem that, by the way, I did not have but was in his imagination. So what happened here? I finally got it. I decided to get it anyway after meeting Alex Branczik from Sotheby’s London. I didn’t care if John Mack could not afford it, I wanted it for me.


Ai Wei Wei Does Not Believe In Contracts

I was going to put all my savings there and maybe borrow some money for that purpose but Lisson said: ‘No, Ai Wei Wei does not care that you paid that money for the reserve. Now he wants more than double that money because he knows that his prices are going up’. I said to them: ‘do you realise that what you are doing borders crime’. Valeria from Lisson said: ‘that is the way Ai Wei Wei’s workshop works’. I answered: ‘tell that little piece of shit that I will never work with him, by any piece by him or believe in him because as an artist is a mediocre,  as a politician he is an opportunist and as a business partner he is untrustworthy’.

Ai Wei Wei Changes The Price According To The Buyer: Is Not That Discrimination?

To add insult to injury and in her very manner, Valeria, who was my friend and the person in Lisson in charge of my account told me that the installation that was last year at the central court in Somerset House was on sale. I had a buyer form NYC that was very interested in the whole set. So after months of trying to get a price, Alex Longsdail came to me and said: ‘Ai Wei Wei is very protective of where his work goes so in order to say a price he needs to know the name of the buyer’.  I thought: ‘Hold on, this means that it is different prices for different people. That is discrimination and goes against fair play’. Needless to say that a week later Alex was lecturing me and John Mack about how the free market were supposed to work. Well, actually, the prices were not led by the market but by the gallerists and artists that inflated them so much while flooding the market of works that today’s art market is a time bomb that manages to survive because no one dares to shoot the first bullet. Idiots or criminal? You decide!

Written by Rodrigo Canete. All Rights Reserved. rodrigo.canete1@gmail.com

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