China Demands Return of San Diego Contemporary Museum’s Ai Weiwei

by Kyle Chayka on May 25, 2011

Sculptures from Ai’s “Chairs” series (2010) (image via

Tyler Green has this incredible story — China is demanding the return of two marble chair sculptures by Ai Weiwei recently purchased by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego due to a claimed export license problem. Is China trying to censor Ai’s work abroad?

“The Chinese have contacted us through the shipping company that delivered the chairs and has demanded their return,” MCASD director Hugh Davies told Modern Art Notes. The strange thing is that MCASD went through a trusted customs broker who they have relied on in the past without issue. The only difference here is that it’s Ai Weiwei’s work.

Sounds weird, right? It gets weirder, because there’s no specific evidence of government interference. So far, the only requests for the objects’ return have come through the broker and the shipping company. Yet given the circumstances, it seems fair to assume that the pressure to return the works is political.

Related: For installation shots of the Ai Weiwei work currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in our post last week, “Report from San Diego: Ai Weiwei, Sam Gilliam, Helen Pashgian.”

Some commentary on the issue from the twitterverse:

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  • Jaycasey

    Don’t give it back – you’d never get your money back.  They might even destroy the art works so give them asylum.

  • They (the broker, shipper and gov) just want to make money on Ai Weiwei sales just like all of the other users.  

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