Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ai Wei Wei's Release, a Cause for Mitigated Celebration

Ai Wei Wei, a Chinese artist who used his art to criticize the Chinese government, was released under strict conditions on Tuesday after months of imprisonment. The Chinese reported that the arrest was for "tax evasion," and certainly had "nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression."(1) (2) 

Photo from Ai Wei Wei's "Fuck You" series
Considering the nature of Mr. Ai's works, such as the one above, and China's history of human rights and freedom of expression abuses which Ai was combatting, it is quite obvious to outsiders that this is a blatant lie. But, what I find particularly revealing is this video by The Guardian which interviews people in Beijing about his release. In the video citizens try to sidestep the issue without sounding too critical of the government, as one would expect, but apparently they 'didn't get the memo' that "it wasn't about freedom of expression."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Copywrong-- a Few Words on Carriou v Prince

By: James Fletcher

Photographer Patrick Carriou successfully sued the "appropriation artist" Richard Prince for Prince's use of Carriou's photographs in eight works of "appropriation art" which sold for a total of over ten million dollars.(1) The result of the suit was a ruling that "[Richard Prince] shall..deliver up for impounding, destruction, or other disposition, as [Carriou] determines, all infringing copies."(2)  The second result was a stream of commentaries. The positions of these commentaries, either in favor or in opposition to the result of the case, seemed to be decided mostly based on what the author thought about Prince's art.

The infringement of copyright in the production of art mostly hinges upon whether the use was transformative-- transforming the original meaning through commentary-- or derivative-- relying on the purpose of the original without making a commentary on it. Upon first seeing Prince's work I assumed Prince was making some kind of commentary on the anonymity of the subjects of anthropological photos and the importance of context. (A good comparison between Prince's work and Carriou's original is here). I set about preparing to write a commentary along these lines.
Then I read this in the documents of the case:
"Prince testified that he has no interest in the original meanings of the photographs he uses....Prince testified that he 'doesn't really have a message' he attempts to communicate when making art. In creating the paintings Prince did not intend to comment on any aspects of the original works or on the broader culture."  (3)
Wait wait wait................REALLY!?   No, really!? THIS is what he said? 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Minipost: Pope John Paul II and Modern Art

The other day I was visiting the Vatican City when I saw the banner pictured below. What I first noticed about the image was how moving it was, particularly because it was such an intimate close-up depiction of the former Pope. Seeing so much of his face, I was able to ignore his position for a moment and see him as a person. A person whose face tightened up in a moment of reflection. A person whose individual strands of hair were pushed here and there by the wind.

What I noticed next was the form of the crucifix he was carrying during this moment of thought and reflection captured in an image that the church chose to remember him by. It was a bronze crucifix produced in not quite realistic form. It reminded me of the type of modern form employed in the statue dedicated to Pope John Paul II that I discussed in an earlier post. It seemed to me that there could be no greater testament to Pope John Paul II's approval of such modern form than this image.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Flip-Side of Cultural Diplomacy-- China's Exhibits of RomanticTibet

Cultural diplomacy through the foreign exhibition of art is an extension of diplomacy which is usually positive and uncontroversial. But as the example in this article shows, countries can and do use cultural diplomacy to manipulate foreign opinion in support of their foreign or domestic policy.

In October 2009 the Chinese government sponsored an exhibit titled "Snow-Covered Plateau--Chinese Painting Works" that was displayed for six days in Milan, Italy. The explicit intent of the exhibit was to showcase the region's "social and economic development in past 50 years," and therefore the benefits of "cooperation" with China.(1) The purpose of having this exhibit in Italy instead of in Tibet or Beijing logically must have been to garner support for the cooperation between Tibet and China and to divert popular support for the cause of Tibetan independence, which has significant support in the rest of the world.