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Ai Weiwei Offered Berlin Professorship; Legal Case Looks Bad [UPDATE]

Ai Weiwei in front of his artwork in Munich in 2009 (image via artistsspeakout.com)

Though the artist remains arrested and his whereabouts and status are still unknown, Ai Weiwei has been offered a guest professorship at Berlin’s University of the Arts, the official position financed by the Einstein Foundation and supported by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. Meanwhile, NYU professor Jeremy Cohen writes that Ai’s legal case doesn’t look good.

According to Artforum, the university position was in planning since December 2010, though it has been kept under wraps until recently; Ai’s arrest sped up the process. “Berlin’s (University of the Arts) appoints Ai Weiwei, not as a dissident but more as an artist with a strong political assertion and a brilliant international reputation,” said the university president Martin Rennert. “We will keep the position open until it’s possible for Ai to contact us and to speak about the details.”

To me, this is probably the strongest gesture of support anyone has made yet to support Ai’s case. It’s the kind of action that shows a willingness to commit to wholly supporting the artist, his career and his significance in the international art world rather than simply calling for his release. Should the Chinese government continue to fail to respond, it is gestures like this that will continue to needle them, and to embarrass the government in the eyes of the international cultural community.

In the meantime, Artforum reports that several Ai exhibitions in Europe will open as planned, including shows at the Neugerriemschneider gallery on April 29, the Fotomuseum Winterthur on May 28, at the Kunsthaus Bregenz on July 16, and at the Kunstmuseum Luzern on May 21. Add these to the list of prominent events that Ai has been forced away from. A set of Ai’s sculptures is due to open in New York on May 2 outside the Plaza Hotel. I hope NYC institutions speak up if Ai is still unable to attend. We sure will.

Jeremy Cohen of the NYU Law School writes that Ai’s case isn’t looking good legally. The Chinese government has repeatedly failed to meet even its own laws, so it’s fairly apparent that there are no rules or precedents for Ai’s arrest or the possible consequences. Police have so far not informed Ai’s family or his lawyers of any official charge, and they have actively intimidated his lawyers from attempting to communicate with the artist, or even to speak publicly about the case. Cohen writes, “Only three things can safely be said at this non-transparent juncture, as we await the crucial decision whether or not Ai will be formally arrested.” These are:

1. Now, the investigation is indeed focusing on possible income tax violations. Although we do not know why the police continue to detain Ai’s associate, former journalist Wen Tao, and probably several other employees, we do know that staff members, Ai’s accountant, his business partners and his wife were interrogated by tax officials as well as police.

2. It also seems clear, whatever the evidence being assembled about tax evasion or other charges, that this was not the motivation for Ai’s detention. This case started out on a “detain first and look for justification later” basis.

3. However the investigation phase of this case ends, it has already demonstrated once again how far China’s police are not only from adhering to the standards of fair criminal justice enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the government signed in 1998 but has yet to ratify, but also from adhering to their own country’s criminal procedure law.

In other words, Chinese rule of law is essentially nonexistent in this case. Cohen’s analysis is the best and most coherent take I’ve seen so far on the artist’s current status, so I’m content to leave it at that. The best we can hope for is that the government makes a move soon. Until then, I hope more and more international institutions, cultural and political, speak out against the arrest and in support of the artist.

Update:

The Guardian reports that Ai’s close friend rock musician, artist and writer Zuoxiao Zuzhou and his wife Xiao Li are now missing and have not been heard from for several hours. Zuoxiao published an article entitled “Who doesn’t love Ai Weiwei?” in the Hong Kong newspaper Mingpao on Tuesday. Searches for Zuoxiao’s  name are reportedly being blocked on Sina Weibo, the Chinese microblogging service.

Ai Weiwei has been missing since April 3. His friend Wen Tao, 38, driver and cousin Zhang Jinsong, also known as Xiao Pang, 43, accountant Hu Mingfen, 55, and colleague Liu Zhenggang, 49, also remain missing, writes the Guardian.

Related:

  • View our ongoing coverage of Ai Weiwei’s arrest and controversy by clicking here.
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