The popularity of Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei in the Netherlands is largely fueled by the Dutch love of art that hovers on the edge of acceptability. This commitment to pushing the boundaries of freedom of expression is evident in the exhibition FUCK OFF 2 which he’s curated and which opens at the Groninger Museum on Sunday.
“The Dutch are interested in Ai Weiwei’s work because it raises questions and provokes reactions. We like that”, says Erwin van Pruissen, an http://de.linkedin.com/pub/erwin-van-pruissen/3/a9b/611 " target="_blank">expert in Asian art. “What also appeals to me personally is his feeling for design. He always looks at everyday objects in an imaginative way. Think of his stools and his terracotta pots for example.”
Weiwei has an enthusiastic international following, partly because of the time he spent living and working in New York, according to Mark Wilson, Chief Curator of the Groninger Museum. http://www.groningermuseum.nl/en. “He applies Western standards to Chinese art. It’s a unique combination which has won him admirers in both East and West.”
The new exhibition is a sequel to FUCK OFF, the groundbreaking show staged by Ai Weiwei and curator and critic Feng Boyi in Shanghai in 2000. Its radical content meant it quickly fell foul of the Chinese authorities. Since then, Ai Weiwei has become an ever more outspoken critic of social and cultural developments in his country. In 2011, he was jailed for three months for ‘economic crimes’ (tax evasion).
“It’s difficult to say if his work would be valued so highly if he wasn’t also an activist”, answers Van Pruissen when asked what he believes the impact of Beijing’s actions have been on the artist. “In my view, the story – in this case criticism of the Chinese regime – is an important aspect of the artwork itself, especially in modern art. Historically too, the best artworks have always told a story.”
“What’s certain is that his openly critical stance has greatly expanded his appeal”, adds Wilson. “His work has become internationally known and is widely appreciated.”
Pushing the limits
FUCK OFF 2 gathers together work by 37 present-day Chinese artists, including Ai Weiwei himself, and selected by him together with Feng Boyi and Mark Wilson. The Groninger Museum hosted a solo exhibition by Ai Weiwei in 2008, and Wilson says there are major differences between the artist’s work then and now. “The 2008 exhibition was much more raw. Then, for example, he had fetuses on show. There’s nothing like that now. Activism plays a central role. The works are a response to the fact that people in China are (still) not free to do as they wish.”
But Wilson emphasises that FUCK OFF 2 is not an anti-government exhibition. “On the contrary, we want to show that the Chinese authorities themselves don’t know exactly where to draw the line. With their work, the artists are asking just what the limits are, what’s allowed and what’s not. Besides that, we want to show how much people take for granted. People in the West are used to saying what they like without worrying about possible consequences, but there are many parts of the world where this is not possible.”
FUCKOFF2 is on show at the Groninger Museum from 26 May till 17 November 2013