Ai Weiwei, “Painted Vases” (2009) (image via

Despite a very public unveiling of his sculpture in NYC, Ai Weiwei remains missing. A commercial solo show of the artist’s work will go on display at Lisson Gallery in London while protesting graffiti artists were arrested in Hong Kong. Ai’s case still doesn’t look good, says Peter Foster.

  • The biggest news for Ai Weiwei is that his planned solo show at Lisson Gallery in London will go on even without the artist’s presence, reports The Art Newspaper. The exhibition, planned for May 13 through August 16, will present a mini-retrospective of Ai’s work, a “focused survey” that includes the artist’s ceramics, photographs, furniture and larger sculptures. In an essay published by the Guardian, Lisson Gallery director Nicholas Logsdail writes, “All the arrangements for the show had been made before [Ai’s] arrest, but it feels rotten putting it on in his absence.” Nonetheless, the show will go on, with an accompanying series of events that will also include a moment of silence for the artist’s situation as well as a press conference and an open party. It’s important to note that Lisson Gallery represents Ai and currently presents his largest commercial outlet for sales.
  • Some of the strongest protest action in support of Ai Weiwei is taking place close to the action in Hong Kong, with graffiti artists peppering the city with spray-painted posters calling for the artist’s release. Some guerrilla activists even projected Ai’s visage onto city buildings in a very public statement. With these protest gestures has come a crackdown, though. Hong Kong police are on the hunt for these street artists, and have arrested two men for spray painting slogans in support of Ai. The men were later released on bail, with Hong Kong political figures calling the arrests “akin to helping the mainland Chinese government to crack down on dissidents.” That there’s space for open protest in Hong Kong is a good thing, but who knows how long the opportunity will last.
  • In the Telegraph, Beijing correspondent Peter Forster writes, “the longer Ai stays locked away out of sight, the larger his presence grows and the further afield his message is heard,” which is probably the best anyone can do in summarizing the international attitude toward Ai’s arrest at present. Still, don’t mistake this for optimism. Forster has been speaking to Liu Xiaoyuan, Ai’s lawyer, but Liu is also unable to explain the legal ramifications of the arrest because the Chinese government is actually breaking its own laws with regard to his detention and the total lack of explanation of the arrest. Still, the article does a good job of tackling the possibilities of the case under Chinese law.


  • A telephone and e-mail based interview between Ai and a “public opinion manipulator” from March 22 is published on the China Media Project blog. The interview, which is probably the most recent formal statement we have from the artist, has been confirmed as legitimate by Ai’s studio. The manipulator’s job is to comment on news stories online, twisting internet discourse in a direction prescribed by the writer’s government managers. It’s a pretty fascinating look inside a little know facet of Chinese social and political discussion.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner are in China this week, but Ai’s imprisonment without charge is off the table. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai reaffirmed the Chinese government’s basic doctrine of non-interference, saying, “I think it is advisable for the United States to pay more attention to the development of China in terms of human rights, rather than being preoccupied with individual cases.” I still hope the US government can make more of a public statement in support of Ai, though that may have to wait until more details surface.

All this coverage from the UK leaves me wondering what mainstream US publications are failing to report on Ai’s case. Certainly the New York Times has been relatively silent on the issue, though I can’t fault Evan Osnos’ writing in the New Yorker. As always, stay tuned for updates.

Hat tip to Eyeteeth for providing excellent coverage of Ai’s arrest.

The Latest

Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...