Ai Weiwei and the Art of Demolition

On his blog, Evan Osnos writes about the brief life and sudden death of Ai Weiwei’s studio in Shanghai, which was demolished yesterday:

Ai was eventually released from house arrest, and he said he was told the demolition in Shanghai would begin sometime after Chinese New Year, which falls on February 3rd this year. Yesterday, however, he received another call, this time from a neighbor in Shanghai; the demolition had begun without warning. He hopped a plane, and by the time he arrived, the artist in him—he is known, after all, for his gleeful destruction of ancient urns—couldn’t help but be impressed by the speed of the destruction. “They had a very professional demolition team. Two sides, each side had four machines, big machines tearing it down and breaking it. I watched until night came.” He sent photos and videos out over the Web.

“I thought, huh, the destruction of it has already made it art. Art exists in different forms. What is art? Should we go back to the age of only sculpture? At least a hundred thousand people knew this news over the Internet. They watched it in front of their eyes.”

He spent roughly a million dollars on the project, and the government offered him compensation for his losses. “They gave us a big amount of money,” he said, adding, “We said the building is not just brick and concrete, and we said it’s a work. But they think of it very simply.”

The New York Times also reports:

It took two years to build, and one day to tear down.

An order to raze the studio — designed by Ai Weiwei, a protean artist who is one of the most outspoken critics of the Chinese Communist Party — was issued last July. Mr. Ai took the move to be retribution for rankling the authorities. He said officials told him that the demolition would not take place until after the first day of the Year of the Rabbit, which falls on Feb. 3.

So he was shocked to discover that workers had begun knocking it down early Tuesday, Mr. Ai said in a telephone interview from Shanghai on Wednesday. Mr. Ai said a neighboring studio he had designed for a friend had also been destroyed.

“Everything is gone,” he said. “It’s all black now. They finished the job at 9 o’clock last night.”

January 12, 2011 10:56 PM
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