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(i) (ii)


Status acquisition Conscience cleansing (iii) Tax sheltering


‘Criticality’ (which is a word you hear a lot at the most ‘critically-engaged’ art schools but that doesn’t even really make grammatical sense) has become the necessary smokescreen for art’s absorption into capital. So, maybe an even greater market achievement than that of Anish Kapoor is that of the now probably incarcerated Ai Weiwei in occupying a similarly inflated scale of production but with the added illusion of socio-political transformation. Now I’m not questioning the personal efforts of a man who is under lock and key as I write this and Weiwei has certainly been an outspoken critic of China’s authoritarian regime. But his art functions so well within the global economic system in which it circulates precisely because of the added value derived from the supposedly ‘political’ frame with which it’s presented. In itself, Weiwei’s Unilever commission for Tate’s Turbine Hall functions as ‘bling art’ of the grandest kind, wowing and dazzling us with scale. With 1,600 people from Weiwei’s hometown crafting the ceramic seeds over two-and-a-half years, the production is as mind-boggling as Damien Hirst’s For The Love Of God, the making of which used up all the highest-grade ethically sourced diamonds in the world. Hirst caused mayhem in the international diamond markets and had to resort to using some slightly lower-grade diamonds to finish the piece because there simply weren’t enough diamonds in the world. Neither Hirst nor Weiwei problematise the role of labour in their work, unlike Mexico-based artist Santiago Sierra, for example, who has employed labourers to do meaningless work in the gallery specifically to foreground the economic realities within which art functions. Just like Hirst’s diamond skull, Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds simply re-presents financial might over existing labour and trade relations by employing this excess of materiality to produce money as spectacle. But through a clever marketing/curatorial sleight-of-hand, Weiwei’s own political activism lends the work the scent of transformative political action, repeatedly declared but never specified in the accompanying Tate blurb. In effect, the economic function of Ai Weiwei’s art is to monetise his activism, a role that his London gallery, Lisson, is performing with impressive flair ahead of major sales opportunities at this month’s Hong Kong Art Fair. At the unsurprisingly mobbed media circus with which Weiwei’s current show there opened, Lisson asked all present to congregate in the street outside the gallery to observe a minute’s silence underneath a giant photograph of the artist. The fervor with which everyone seemed so keen to congratulate themselves for being right- on (with Weiwei’s two-story-high, doe-eyed face hanging overhead) produced a quasi-religious orgy of bad taste at least as nauseating as the royal wedding a couple of weeks earlier. It was like a ‘Bono moment’ except that Ai Weiwei (unlike U2’s papal candidate) can’t himself be blamed for what happens in his name because he’s probably behind bars.


This page: Elizabeth Price, User Group Disco, 2009, HD Video, 15 mins Image courtesy Elizabeth Price and MOTINTERNATIONAL


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