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Ai Weiwei Posts Curator Transcripts After Censorship Row

by Mostafa Heddaya on June 2, 2014

aiwwinsta

(screenshot via Instagram)

Ai Weiwei released three transcripts today related to his recent withdrawal from an exhibition at Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA). The conversations reflect his indignant response to the censorship of a press release, and encompass exchanges with the center’s curator, Philip Tinari, the show’s guest curator, Marianne Brouwer, and UCCA chief Xue Mei. The dissident artist posted the conversations as Instagram captions accompanying several images related to the show, a tribute to the work of pioneering Chinese contemporary art figure Hans van Dijk, with whom he co-founded the China Art Archives & Warehouse (CAAW).

The withdrawal last week was precipitated by the removal of Ai Weiwei’s name from Chinese and English language versions of a press release, which Ai believes altered the historical record regarding van Dijk’s work with him on CAAW. (Chinese art news site Randian Online identifies the English-language release in question as a newsletter sent to a UCCA email list.) In the transcripts, Ai alleges that Tinari and Xue dropped his name from the press communication out of fear of Chinese authorities, and goes on to chastise Tinari for “ruin[ing] yourself with this Chineseness,” referring to the practice of self-censorship.

In addition to shedding some light on the circumstances surrounding the artist’s withdrawal from the exhibition, the conversation shows a divergence of opinion over the relative significance of the press release. Tinari refers to it as “the stupid press release,” discounting its value compared to the show itself, where Ai Weiwei’s name was “all over” the galleries. The artist disagreed, calling the press release “most important” as “the public announcement,” and accusing Tinari of “showing [him] under the table.”

Ai further framed his pullout in terms of the exhibition’s subject, Hans van Dijk, stating that his actions “honor the memory” of his erstwhile collaborator. He is more explicit in his conversation with Xue, who told the artist he was specifically bowing to pressure from the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in modifying the release, earning a sharp rebuke:

What I care about is that Hans did an extraordinary thing in his life, he founded the CAAW together with me, we held numerous exhibitions of different artists over the course of a few decades, and you chose to ignore it, you chose to ignore simple historical facts, what you are doing is changing the course of history, like the Tiananmen Square incident, you are all the same, even if you worked with Nazi’s [sic] you would all be the same.

This isn’t Ai Weiwei’s first UCCA-related turbulence. In 2011 a major exhibition of his at the center was canceled under political pressure; while there were reports that founder Guy Ullens divested his stake in the institution around that time, Ullens remains a key supporter of the UCCA, and is responsible for 30–40% of the institute’s present annual operating budget, according to Philip Tinari.

The three transcripts posted as captions on the artist’s Instagram page are reproduced below. The first, with Tinari, was posted in two parts, and the second and third, with Brouwer and Xue, in four parts each. Beyond light formatting, the text appears exactly as Ai posted it.

Transcript 1:

Time: 25th May, 2014
Location: UCCA cafeteria
Recording method: Video
Participants: Philip Tinari Director of UCCA Ai Weiwei (part one)

A: So I’m sorry I didn’t even know you were here. I’m sorry I came because it’s so many things happened, in one month my name has been taken down twice, in two museums. I have to say something about it.
P: I totally understand but I need to explain to you some of the reasons.
A: What is that?
P: Do I need to do it? do I need to be so (?)
A: Yes, of course, why not, I mean everything should be open. This is a principle. You know, you don’t have to have me. I don’t need to have an exhibition. I don’t like these dirty deals, under the table, everybody understands.
P: Ok. It was not, Your name was all over, it was all over the exhibition, it was the stupid press release,
A: Come on I don’t want my name to be all over the exhibition. The press release is the public announcement. The most important, you know?
P: (it’s not the?) most important, you know, I think the show is the most important.
A: You don’t think a public release is important? As a curator? You know all the press gets the same information. All the public gets the same information. I don’t want you to show me under the table.
P: It’s not under the table the name is right there next to it.
A: So you think it’s justified? P: I think my boss made a decision that she had to make because she was being threatened and it wasn’t my –
A: She called me and said that you and her discussed and agreed to take my name down.
P: Your name was not taken down from the show, it was one time on the press release on the opening day, it was on the website to begin with, the day of, it’s … and then… it was in the afflux … and no one else’s name was that just went out the other day. I think, I think the problem is… (to be continue)

Time: 25th May, 2014
Location: UCCA cafeteria
Recording method: Video
Participants: Philip Tinari Director of UCCA Ai Weiwei (part two)

A: You don’t think that’s a scandal?Don’t you stand behind artists or friends or any moral issues or artistic issues like this?
P: I stand behind trying to show your work in Beijing, no one else can do it.
A: Come on, when I was released Faurshou did a 5000 students names with my sunflower seeds. My name, press release, everything’s there. You guys just self-censor and you try to.. I don’t know what you’re trying to do.
P: (…) It’s not self-censoring A: It’s not self-censoring? So what are you doing then?
P: Asked by the management of 798.
A: Well your boss told me it’s a self-censor, she decided and then discussed with you and you also agreed with it…. I’m very disappointed.
P: I know you are.. and I’m sorry.
A: No, no it’s not about sorry.
P: I wrote about your work before anyone…
A: If Chinese contemporary art has any moment for integrity,
P: I wrote ten pages about you
A: This is a different thing. I know I know and we’re friends, but that’s very different. I recognize our friendship but this is very different. I cannot stand people doing things with one hand and then with another.. it’s just not proper.
P: I have to think.. I can’t get the museum shut down on my watch.
A: Come on, you’re over stating this. I know and I’m not criticizing you, we are still friends.
P: It’s a decision I’m not allowed to make. You know, I’m a stupid foreigner, I shouldn’t even be in China, right? I know that’s what you probably think. But like, I’m dong what I try to do, and it’s the best I can do.
A: You’re young, you don’t have to do this. You have a bright future, you don’t have to ruin yourself with this Chineseness. You don’t have to do it! (the end)

Transcript 2:

Time: 25th May, 2014
Location: UCCA cafeteria
Recording method: Video
Participants: Marianne Brouwer Guest Curator for “Hans Van Dijk: 5000 Names” Philip Tinari Director of UCCA
Ai Weiwei

(part one)

M: Listen Weiwei, Why don’t you have dinner with us…
A: You think I can have dinner with you, when you are the curator and you took my name off your show?
M: I didn’t take you name off.
A: If you didn’t take it off, are you going to publicly announce your……you know, do something about it?
M: I don’t know. I’m a guest curator.
A: oh, you’re only a guest curator.
M: I’m a guest curator.
A: Who’s the curator?
M: I’m the guest curator.
A: The one sitting next to you (pointing at Phil), right?
M: No.
A: Who?
M: There’s an institutional obligation of things, and I’m the guest curator who made the show. And a lot of things went wrong last minute, that I’d wish had not gone wrong because… and it’s not part of… um… um… just little things went wrong just with photos, with captions, all the stories are not yet in because they weren’t printed out in the writer, the photos were not printed out. The whole CAAW but also The Berlin World, they all fell through the cracks of, I don’t know who is… somebody…
A: Just tell me who wrote the press release. Who?
M: The press release is UCCA
A: UCCA wrote it?
M: Yes.
A: So that’s Phil Tinari. Right? Phil did that, right? Neither of you wrote the press release, this is amazing! Such a show, but nobody knows who wrote the press release!
M: The press… giving out the press… if you don’t mind me sitting down.
A: Please.
M: Because I have a back problem.
A: Yeah, I think you really do have a back problem.
M: And will you please sit down, and eat with me.
A: No, I have no back problem, I can stand.
M: That’s okay too. But please, can we talk, about this… in a different way perhaps? Because I know how important you were to Hans, and how important Hans was to you.
A: That’s a little bit too late.
M: No, it isn’t, but…
(to be continue)

(part two)

A: That’s too late.
M: It isn’t.
A: In your press release, you mentioned Hans worked with “somebody” on the CAAW, then just don’t mention CAAW at all, you know? You don’t have to mention that.
M: But it’s in there, there is a text. A: Do you want me to show you the text?
M: There is a text…
A: Let me show you the text.
M: There is a text that says Ai Weiwei and Hans Van Dijk founded the CAAW together.
A: Let me read the Chinese version, because you’re reading the English version. Find my name there. Just find my name there.
M: This is the press release, right?
A: Of course this is the press release. Just find my name there. Find my name there. This is the press release everybody received. They sent it to me and said, “Weiwei, would you look at this.” I didn’t even know I was in the show. I saw this and said, come on, how can the press release write something like this, in memory of my friend and at the same time distorting the facts. When I came to the show, the Dutch cultural ambassador said, “Weiwei, you’re here! Did you also know Hans?” I said, “Yes. It happens that I know him, he gave me his dentures before he had his operation.” They were all very surprised, so I don’t know. You didn’t see my name, right?You wish my name was there.Is that true? You wish my name was there? You see the Artists, you see the names, you see where they mentioned Hans for CAAW, I mean come on, this is a little bit too much, huh? You think I’m too much on this?
M: I wanted…
A: Enjoy your dinner, bye bye.
M: Listen, I knew… listen, Ai Weiwei… Listen, Mr. Ai, I want to say…Can I say something?Can I say something, please?
A: Yes.(to be continue )

(part three)

M: Your violin.
A: What?
M: Hans showed your violin in 1994 together with Zhang Enli’s painting, the 1994 painting, with the two boxer, that’s why they are hanging together in the show and I am very, very, deeply sad that they are out, okay? I am very sad, you proposed the Safe Sex and that was in Hans’ house that we rebuilt, because I love that piece, I thought it was Fantastic…
A: you love my pieces but you don’t love my name, right?
M: Listen. If it means that we can keep…
P: It’s not her fault.
A: Huh?
P: It’s not her fault. it’s the UCCA’s fault.
A: I never said it’s whose fault. These are the facts. I have to look at the facts, right?
M: And the piano…
A: It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s nobody’s fault.
M: No, no, no…
A: It’s my fault, right? Huh?
M: It’s nobody’s fault.
P: It’s China’s fault
A: China is really made up of individuals. There’s no such thing as China. You all know it.
M: (inaudible) You know but… what I want… what I’m really sad about… It really makes me cry… it’s such an expensive…
A: I know Hans so well, Hans will be happy I did this. I know Hans so well, okay?
M: I know.
A: So I don’t care who feels happy or unhappy. I will make this film, and I will interview everybody. I will ask them, and you know, they can give me their honest opinion. They can say, “Fuck Weiwei, why do we have to put your name there?” It doesn’t matter. I have to respect the facts. (to be continue )

(part four)

M: Okay.
A: I mean, if you want to be interviewed, I want to interview you. Do you want to be interviewed?
M: I did two interviews with you… I came with Phil to see you and before that…
A: So you don’t want to be interviewed.
M: Before… of course I…
A: You did two interviews and I think you might have just put my name there.
M: You know very well why your name isn’t there, and you know it…
A: Why? Explain to me please.
M: I think you Do.
A: Why?
M: It’s because of the government…
A: Just tell me why?
M: It’s so that your works could be in the show.
A: So if I want my works to be in the show, my name cannot be there.
M: Your work… your name is in the show.
A: Such an argument.
M: Your name is in the show, all over the place.
A: My name is in my heart, it’s not anywhere, you know? It doesn’t matter, I just have to fight for that.
M: That is your…
A: As an artist, I have to fight for integrity for any show. If I’m involved, I want it to be right. If I’m not in a show, I don’t even go!
M: We did invite you…
A: I’m telling you, I went to the show by accident, what an accident!
M: You know, this is… it is so much… not the fact, and you know it. I’m sorry, there is nothing else I could say.
A: There is nothing else I can say either, so…
M: I’m really, really sad about this, because I think those works are absolutely wonderful, they should be here. That’s all I can say.
A: Well, enjoy. This is all small things, nothing… I mean everything, so many things happened, and it is just so… absolutely nothing… (the end)

Transcript 3:

Time: 23rd May, 2014 19:00
Location: Indigo, Jiuxianqiao, Beijing
Recording method: Mobile phone call
Participants: Xue Mei CEO of UCCA Ai Weiwei (part one)

X: Your name was originally in the press release, but they requested that I take your name off first.
A: Who requested for my name to be taken off?
X: All of your artwork had to be approved, I have done everything in my power for them to be exhibited.
A: You haven’t answered my question, who told you to take my name off?
X: Who?
A: Who told you to take my name off?
X: Hello, I have no reception…
A: You said, “They requested that I take your name off first.” Who does “they” refer to?
X: What I meant was, our exhibition is in a sensitive period of time, which is why we took your name down first, so the artworks could be approved, after which we can put your name back on again. The reason behind not putting your name in the press release is because today is the opening and we do not wish for them to come and raid the place, do you understand what I’m saying?
A: Who are “they”? X: Um… well… I am the CEO and I am responsible for a lot of things.
A: I’ve got nothing to do with you. You keep referring to “they”, can you please tell me who “they” are?
X: Quite a few different parties, The Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the CPC for instance, just different authorities.
A: The Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the CPC is monitoring your exhibition?
X: It is because we are a foreign gallery, there are a lot of assessments and legally binding limitations.
A: How did you know my name had to be taken off and not the names of others?
X: That’s not true, there are others.
A: I don’t know, then why did you say Hans Van Dijk founded the CAAW together with “somebody”, in doing so you not only removed my name but also changed the course of history. He founded the CAAW together with me, how could you just say he worked with “somebody”? Isn’t that ridiculous? (to be continue)

Time: 23rd May, 2014 19:00
Location: Indigo, Jiuxianqiao, Beijing
Recording method: Mobile phone call
Participants: Xue Mei CEO of UCCA Ai Weiwei (part two)

X: The thing is, this is only the case for this press release, your name was all over the press release we sent out previously, but due to the opening and the sensitive issues involved, we had no choice but to take your name down during the opening, we fully intend on putting it back on in a couple of days. You will find, however, that your name is in the English version of the press release.
A: I have read it and my name is not on there.
X: It is, It is, I will send it over.
A: I have both the Chinese and English versions of the press release, my name is not on either of them.
X: Mr. Ai may I please send this version over to you?
A: I am not asking for you to send it over. The versions I have on hand are copies of the press release you sent to everybody. It is too late for you to send me anything now.
X: We have a Wechat account and we distributed it via Wechat.
A: That is exactly how I got a copy, I didn’t see my name which took me by surprise.
X: Mr. Ai your name was on there three days ago.
A: Which is to say, you then sent out a different version without mentioning my name?
X: Um… do you think it would be possible for us to have this conversation face to face instead of over the phone? I have been swamped with crowds of people these few days, I haven’t even had a good night’s sleep.
A: You came to me with an explanation for all that has happened, I didn’t come to you asking why, I fully understand where the UCCA stands, but if you are going to give me an explanation, do it properly, do not leave me more confused than ever.
X: Yes, Yes, Yes, which is why I need to meet with you. (to be continue)

Time: 23rd May, 2014 19:00
Location: Indigo, Jiuxianqiao, Beijing
Recording method: Mobile phone call
Participants: Xue Mei CEO of UCCA Ai Weiwei (part three)
A: There is no need for us to meet face to face, what is the point in meeting up? Phil also asked to meet with me.
X: I hoped to speak with you regarding this incident when you came to the exhibition, but you walked straight in. We saw each other last time, remember?
A: That is not the issue, what we are dealing with is not something that can be resolved between the two of us, this involves the history of Chinese Art, if you want to commemorate my friend, Hans was one of my best friends, our friendship is stronger than his relationship with all of you put together, so for you to commemorate him but at the same time dismiss me is just a joke. Even the Dutch Cultural Ambassador asked, “Oh, did you know Hans too?” I didn’t even know how to respond.
X: The Dutch Ambassador knows nothing at all, he only sponsored US$2,000, what right does he have to comment on this.
A: It doesn’t matter whether he understands or not, this is the impression he gave me.
X: I have been put under all sorts of pressure in the past week, all sorts of pressure. This is how I came up with this solution, your name was on the previous versions of the press release, your name was on our website and press releases, so I spoke to Phil and suggested that we temporarily remove Mr. Ai’s name from our website and press releases, in the hopes that Mr. Ai’s artwork could be exhibited, we planed on putting your name back up after the opening.
A: What did Phil say to that?
X: Of course Phil disagreed, but we didn’t have any other options, they threatened to arrest me. Phil had no choice but to comply, of course Phil disagreed, we had a dispute over this. But this really was our only way out.
A: So the UCCA can discard of Phil’s opinion as a curator? What about the other female curator? What did she have to say? (to be continue)

Time: 23rd May, 2014 19:00
Recording method: Mobile phone call
Participants: Xue Mei CEO of UCCA Ai Weiwei (part four)
X: That curator is an old woman. She disagreed as well, but she understood our position at the same time, because we are a foreign gallery, we are under the surveillance of different departments. I had to accompany a few parties today, someone reported that we were promoting gay sex, it’s all nonsense, they can just arrest me if that is the only option, I don’t care.
A: This is all very simple to me, you are holding an exhibition in memory of my dear friend, a partner of mine, I have nothing against that, all I am saying is that it is inappropriate for me to leave my artwork here, if you feel too disgraced to show my name, then my artwork does not belong in that exhibition hall.
X: What happened was, Phil disagreed, but I tried to simplify the situation, as long as the artworks are in the exhibition, we can put your name next to it, that is of utmost importance, who cares about the press release.
A: None of this is important, the most important thing is to respect the facts, I don’t care about my name. What I care about is that Hans did an extraordinary thing in his life, he founded the CAAW together with me, we held numerous exhibitions of different artists over the course of a few decades, and you chose to ignore it, you chose to ignore simple historical facts, what you are doing is changing the course of history, like the Tiananmen Square incident, you are all the same, even if you worked with Nazi’s you would all be the same.
X: Mr. Ai please try to understand where I am coming from, if you pull you work out I will…
A: There is no reason, it is simply a matter of principle.
X: Yes it is a matter of principle, but what do you suggest we do, we cannot please everyone.
A: I don’t need you to make me happy, I just wish that you do not offend Hans in his commemorative exhibition, I have made myself very clear.
X: So how would you suggest we make up for this?
A: There is no need to make up for it, all you need to do is not to speak of it from now on, then you can Phil can celebrate all you want, goodbye. (the end)

*     *     *

Editorial note: This article has been corrected. An earlier version stated that “founder Guy Ullens divested his stake in the institution and left China that same year.”

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