In an excoriating article, published in today's Guardian and written to accompany the Hayward Gallery exhibition Art of Change: New Directions from China which opened last Friday, Ai Weiwei compares the kind of art offered at such exhibitions to the food served at a Chinatown restaurant: "people will eat it and say it is Chinese, but it is simply a consumerist offering, providing little in the way of a genuine experience of life in China today."
His careful, tightly argued piece does not find fault with the individual artists whose work is displayed, acknowledging that they "have struggled against the limitations imposed by the Chinese state more stridently than others." Yet he does question the premise of the show: "I don't think it's worth discussing new directions in the context of Chinese art - there were no old directions, either. Chinese art has never had any clear orientation."
Instead, Weiwei sees the show as being little more than an assertion of soft power, with China "desperately promoting cultural exchanges with the west, with the goal of presenting itself as a civilised nation." He concludes: "anything that calls itself a cultural exchange is artificial when it lacks any critical content." Read the full piece here, and see more of his essays as well as a comprehensive overview of his work in our book, his first monograph.
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