New Yorkers get fresh look at Ai Weiwei's art

Wed Jun 29, 2011 6:49pm EDT
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A photography exhibit offering glimpses of Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei's time spent living in New York in the 1980s and early 1990s opened on Wednesday, marking the first major museum exhibit of his work since his release from detention.

The artist, whose detention in April in China ignited an international uproar after his family said allegations of economic crimes against him were an excuse to silence his criticism of contemporary China, did not attend the exhibit. Beijing has demanded Ai pay $1.85 million in taxes and fines.

Some in the art world have wondered if the market value of Ai's work might rise with his newfound global fame as a symbol of China's tight grip on dissent, which has seen the detention and arrest of dozens of rights activists and dissidents.

The answer seems to be a likely yes, for now, but the exhibit at The Asia Society Museum did not place any values on Ai's work and instead focused on his art.

Organizers said the timing of the exhibit showing 227 black and white photographs taken by Ai, a conceptual artist known for his sculptures and installations, was purely coincidental with his release from two month's detention last week.

The exhibition, which runs until August 14, shows photographs by the now bearded, burly artist from 1983 to 1993 before he found fame for helping design the Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and for his investigative activities into children who died in shoddy buildings in Sichuan's earthquake in 2008.

"If anything he would see this as a bit of a homecoming. He hasn't had a major show in a museum here in New York City," said Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu, adding the exhibit showed "his time here in New York helped him to think about life as an artist in a different way."

EAST VILLAGE AI   Continued...

<p>Notes are seen on a contact sheet of self portraits, displayed during an exhibit by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei at the Asia Society in New York, June 29, 2011. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid</p>