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Ai Weiwei to Pay $2 Million in Tax Penalties, Chinese Art Scene Moves On

by Kyle Chayka on June 28, 2011

Ai after his release (image via abc.net.au)

Tax Evasion Fines

According to Ai Weiwei’s lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, Ai’s FAKE studio has been accused (and seemingly convicted) of evading over 5 million RMB ($770,000 USD) and is to pay 7 million RMB ($1 million USD) in fines, together totaling around $2 million USD. Ai’s mother Gao Ying speaks on her son’s arrest, release and current condition. In the meantime, the Chinese art scene continues business as usual, with the exception of some ripples — a well-known artist-run cafe has been closed by the authorities.

Ai Weiwei Never Sorry documentarian Alison Klayman retweeted and translated Liu Xiaoyuan’s original tweet about the studio’s tax evasion fines yesterday:

It seems that the Chinese government is sticking to the story that Ai’s arrest was clearly about economic crimes rather than the artist’s outspoken politics, a spin that seems unlikely, but has made it easier for the government to release Ai without making a legal splash.

Ai’s Mother Speaks on Release

Gao Ying, Ai’s mother (image via indiatimes.com)

In a heartbreaking interview with the Epoch Times, Ai Weiwei’s mother Gao Ying talks about the artist’s detention and notes that the artist was treated well and is in good health, though it seems he was kept completely unaware of outside events during his detention. “He didn’t even know that his driver Zhang Jinsong was arrested,” she says. Gao ends the interview by describing the impact the arrest had on her:

I hope there’s no more trouble. If there’s more trouble, this elderly mother is near death. Truly, these 81 days has been immense torture for me. I have not cried so many tears in my life. Truly, it’s been a very painful 81 days, it’s really been this way. My health has also suffered.

At Artists Speak Out, Philip Bishop quotes Hong Kong artist Kacey Wong with an unconfirmed story of the aftermath of Ai’s release, in which the artist isn’t allowed to speak with one of his consistent collaborators:

Wong said the news on Sunday in Hong Kong was that when Ai Weiwei went to a park in Beijing to talk to Chiao Chiao, one of the video artists Ai works with, Chinese security called and reminded Ai Weiwei that “that wasn’t part of the deal,” said Wong.

Business as Usual?

Pace Beijing (image via wayfaring.info)

As Ai becomes a largely silent victim of the Chinese government’s repression of free speech and expression, the Beijing art world continues in its momentum. Skate’s Art Investment Review notes the growing enthusiasm of Chinese collectors while Pace gallery’s Beijing outpost carries on with an exhibition of painter Yue Minjun, a harmless cynical realist whose career and prices have flourished in recent years. A Beijing source tells Hyperallergic that “the [Beijing] art world itself is alive and booming, sales are up, things are humming along,” but the issues remain thinly veiled. A coffee shop located in the 798 Gallery District owned by the Gao Brothers, a famous artistic duo, has been closed by the authorities, and artists’ protests remain underground:

Artists are getting pretty good at learning how to duck the famous “come in for a cup of tea” request by the authorities. There have been a series of performances done in private venues criticizing the surveillance state, and what has happened to Ai Weiwei. These performances are not in any art district and are off the authorities radar … Every artist is aware of Ai Weiwei, everyone talks about it, and they continue to make art nonetheless.

It remains to be seen what consequences and impact Ai’s release will have in the Chinese art world, and if the action is the signal of a relaxation of the government’s recent “Big Chill” or simply another gambit in a balancing act to keep political dissidents silent while the international community remains too placated to openly intervene. We’re hoping for the former.

Correction: This article originally read that Ai would face $1 million in charges, but that excludes paying back the 5 million RMB in evaded tax. The total fine is 13 million RMB or around $2 million.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/jeremy.sapienza Jeremy Sapienza

    Just the rich paying their fair share. China has bullet trains to pay for, you know.

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