Clash of Chinese Art at the Venice Biennale

This year at the biannual Italian art festival, the Venice Biennale, the audience will see the clash between two faces of contemporary Chinese art: one approved and sponsored by Chinese government and the other led by the famous artist-activist Ai Weiwei. From Ning Hui at Tea Leaf Nation:

National pavilions, where artists exhibit artwork from their countries, are a major part of the Venice Biennale. It was not until 2003 that China established its first national pavilion exhibition. In the ten years since, the Chinese pavilion has rarely received positive reviews. Chinese art critics are intentionally vague in their explanations of this lack of success, citing “a variety of reasons.” The unspoken “variety of reasons” are the recurring conflicts between the Chinese government’s demand to control this venue and China’s contemporary artists, who are arguably the hardest people to control in China.

[...] China’s pavilion officially represents the nation, and therefore must be politically correct. This year’s curator, Wang Chunshan, transported a traditional wooden Hui-style architectural structure to the Virgin Garden outside China’s pavilion. Wang said, “I wanted to gather together different materials and different media. I wanted to express the ecology of Chinese art today, of Chinese reality today.” But in the eyes of many, Wang’s statement is belied by the fact that he must promote the ideas of the government department for which he works, the Ministry of Culture, whose mission includes promoting traditional Chinese culture.

[...] Ai also has two other large pieces of work on display at his solo exhibition: Disposition. One is called Straight, for which Ai and his team recovered 150 tons of crushed rebar from schools flattened in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. They bought the steel rods, straightened them, and made them into a sculpture. Another piece, SACRED, represents Ai’s 81 days of imprisonment in 2011, which consists of six iron boxes, each containing sculptures that display what the artist experienced. A review by the Guardian depicted the work vividly: “Here is a miniature Ai being interrogated; here a miniature Ai showers or sits on the lavatory while two uniformed guards stand over him. Other scenes show him sleeping and eating – always in the same tiny space, always under double guard.” [Source]

For more of Ai Weiwei’s work at the Venice Biennale, see Ai Weiwei Shows Venice Biennale His Many Sides by Charlotte Higgins at the Guardian.