Ai Weiwei has withdrawn his art from two museums in Denmark to protest a law passed yesterday by the Danish parliament viewed by many as an anti-immigration measure. As he shared on his Instagram, the Chinese dissident artist has closed his solo exhibition Ruptures at Copenhagen’s Faurschou Foundation and retracted an installation from A New Dynasty — Created in China, a group show of Chinese artists at the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Aarhus. The withdrawals respond directly to the approval of a proposed law stipulating that asylum seekers must now surrender their valuables as recompense for refuge in Denmark. The regulation also delays any family reunions for refugees, stating that they must wait three years before they may even begin the application process of bringing their families over to the Scandinavian country.
Ai announced his exit from the ARoS show first, in an apologetic open letter to its curators Feng Boyi and Erlend G. Høyersten, who serves as the museum’s director. Translated from Chinese, it reads:
I am very shocked about yesterday’s news that the Danish government has decided to seize refugees’ private property. As a result of this regrettable decision, I must withdraw from your exhibition ‘A New Dynasty – Created In China’ to express my protest of the Danish governments’ decision. Please accept my regrets and thank you for your long-term support. I apologize for the inconvenience caused.
The 2015 work, titled “Yu Yi,” depicts a figure made of bamboo that spans nearly 40 feet and hangs from the ceiling to suspend 26 feet above viewers. According to the museum, it references a funerary ornament made of jade from the Han Dynasty as well as “a flying superman referring directly to China as the ultimate world superpower.” Also featured in the exhibition, intended to present views of China from its own artists’ perspectives, are works by Xu Bing, Yin Xiuzhen, and Maleonn. The show, which opened in November, is set to run through May.
The contemporary art museum also announced the news on its website along with the following statement from Høyersten:
We don’t as yet have all the facts in place and we await further details. Needless to say, we’re somewhat taken aback. We’re an art museum that on a daily basis strives to achieve a better understanding for human relations, greater insight into cultures, and we welcome critical reflection based on art. Hence we subscribe to many of the same values as Ai Weiwei.
At this very moment in time, and more than ever before, the people of Europe need cultural institutions to allow space for free thoughts and words. ARoS is an independent institution whose programmes and exhibitions are in no way governed by the power élite as is the case in China, for example. While I profoundly respect his reaction to Danish refugee policy, I think it unreasonable that an entire country and its people should be punished as a result of government policies.
At the Faurschou Foundation, the situation was different, with the museum supporting Ai, working with him to take a stance against the controversial passage. Shortly after announcing his withdrawal from the ARoS museum, Ai shared an image of him and the Foundation’s owner Jens Faurschou. The caption announced the artist’s intention to cut short his exhibition, previously scheduled to remain open through April. The Foundation issued a similar statement:
Jens Faurschou backs the artist’s decision and regrets that the Danish parliament choses to be in the forefront of symbolic and inhuman politics of todays biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe and the Middle East, instead of being in the forefront of a respectful European solution to solve the acute humanitarian crisis.
Unlike Høyersten, Faurschou was not surprised when Ai called him to announce his intentions, according to the Guardian.
“From Ai Weiwei’s side, the important thing is to get a debate and to use his voice,” the Danish art collector said. “He is becoming a European; he is taking part in what goes on here. He did that in China. People would say he has no influence, but when he focused on the scandal of the earthquake in 2008, today China is doing something about corruption. He has a voice and he uses it. I really admire him for that.”
To further criticize the Danish government, Ai later posted a photograph of the luminescent advertisement at Copenhagen airport’s arrival hall that reads, “Welcome to the world’s happiest nation.”
Ai’s withdrawal from the two museums represents the latest action in the artist’s addressing of the European refugee crisis. Previously, he has marched in London (alongside Anish Kapoor) to demonstrate solidarity with refugees and met with others displaced on the Greek island of Lesbos, where he met with refugees and recently established a studio to raise awareness about their plight. It’s reassuring to know that even though he’s busy embellishing department stores and posing with high-heeled socialites, he still has the time to confront more pressing issues around the world.