Ai Wei Wei

Ai Weiwei Play

When looking into museums in China with an intent to compare and contrast them to American museums, I decided the most interesting point of comparison would be the handling and display of politically sensitive exhibitions. In China, two of the most politically sensitive issues are the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the Communist regime, and free speech and expression. As far as the second topic, free speech, the clearest intersection of speech and museums is art, especially the work of controversial artists such as Ai Weiwei.  Despite being repeatedly imprisoned, harassed, and censored by the Chinese government, Ai Weiwei is still paradoxically tied to the government, with some of his most viewed works including the 2008 Olympic Stadium, the “Bird’s Nest”. However, much of his work is still viewed as extremely controversial in China. In the rest of the world, Ai Weiwei is perceived  very differently. For example, in Britain, a playwright worked with Ai Weiwei to write a biographical play about the artist’s life, due to be performed on April 19th. The play is planned to emphasize Ai Weiwei’s interrogations and mistreatment as reported diretly by Ai Weiwei. The playwright himself, Howard Brenton, focuses on political works focusing on the interaction between individuals and the government, making him ideal to write a play about Ai Weiwei’s political activism. Although the play is likely to be favorably received in most of the world, it is still unclear that Ai Weiwei will even be able to see a play about his own life as he cannot leave China. To me, this dichotomy raised the question of how accessible similarly controversial art is in China. Would a play about Ai Weiwei have been censored if it had been locally produced? Are other, less well known artists treated similarly if they produce equally provocative art? I definitely look forward to exploring Chinese museums to learn more about contemporary Chinese art. Other prominent artists I would like to focus on include Cai GuoQiang and Fang Lijun, as it is important to consider less internationally famous artists when discussing the Chinese viewpoint of political art. Besides the political implications of art, I am very curious about the museums themselves, and whether their focus and presentation are similar or different than American art museums. For a fair point of comparison I plan to visit the Freer-Sackler, a museum of Asian art, and the National Gallery of Art, a non-specific art museum. By visiting both, I an curious to see if there is a difference between how Americans portray local and foreign art, and if that difference is similar in China.