Ai Weiwei (born 1957) is a controversial Chinese "artist, social commentator, and activist". Several times now US lawyer Peter Tompa has castigated archaeological preservationists that they do not react to the Chinese government's treatment of this person (he's under arrest) - though I do not really see the connection or why we should. Looking up the background to a comment by Larry Rothfield however leads me to the conclusion that I would like to see him arrested if that's the only way he can be prevented from wantonly damaging ancient artefacts as a means of drawing draw attention to himself. A blog post by Yanda on the "Artist and his model" blog is sufficient justification.
Many of Ai Weiwei’s works from the past decade, for example, are made of local materials and of antique Chinese objects: tables and chairs from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, wood, doors and windows from demolished temples and traditional houses, freshwater pearls, tea, marble, stone, bamboo etc. – ‘ready-mades’ translated into a conceptual, post-minimalist idiom. Alternatively, for his colored vase series, he takes Neolithic vases (5000 – 3000 B.C.) and paints them careless with bright industrial colors. Then he places them in an Allan McCollum style. The vases are authentic antique vases which could just as easily have stood in a collection in a historical museum in China. It is argued that it "is not contempt for China’s history and tradition that lies behind this harsh treatment of the fine old antiques – on the contrary. His use of the vases should rather be seen as a Dadaistic gesture, as black humour and as a political comment [...].Yeah, right.
Ai Weiwei points to the loss of culture by transforming the historical objects into something new".
Painted Vases, 2009
Dunking complete authentic ancient pots into enamel paint is not "art". It is cultural vandalism, pure and simple.
The destruction does not stop there:
In his ‘Dust to dust’ series he first crushed Neolithic-age pottery to powder and stored the gritty remains in a clear IKEA glass jar. Here, the funereal act of memorializing an old urn in a modern urn coupled with the implied violence of the grinding gives the work cerebral and visceral force.
Stuff and nonsense, there is no 'memorialisation' going on here, any more than driving a bulldozer through a graveyard smashing the headstones would be. Thus is sheer provocation.
As is this treatment of a vase from the Tang dynasty (618-907)
Another one (not, I think, Tang but older):
"Urns of this vintage are usually cherished for their anthropological importance. By employing them as readymades, Ai strips them of their aura of preciousness only to reapply it according to a different system of valuation. However, this is not the well-worn strategy of the readymade famously applied by Duchamp to his urinal Fountain, wherein the object lacked cultural gravitas until placed in an art context. Instead, Ai’s chosen readymades already have significance. Working in this manner, Ai transforms precious artifacts—treating them as base and valueless by painting, dropping, grinding, or slapping with a logo—into contemporary fine art. The substitution of one kind of value for another occurs when he displays the transformed urns in a museum vitrine, reinstilling value but replacing historical significance with a newer cultural one".So in a way Ai Weiwei is treating "anthropological" objects in the same way as private antiquity collectors, applying their own notions of value on objects which as a result are stripped of other kinds (e.g, archaeological). By asserting private ownership over these items, collectors deny the rights of other stakeholders to determine what should happen to them, and affirm their right to do whatever they like to their "property". That is even to the extent of altering in whatever way takes their fancy or destroying them should they so wish. Which is what Ai Weiwei is doing to the antiquities that fall into his hands.
I really do not accept that "causing destruction to bring attention to destruction to stop destruction" is a useful way to protest (which is what the guy claims to be doing here) the destruction of the cultural heritage. That seems like protesting the threat to polar bears by filming them being fed with exploding fish and capturing the image of blood and guts on the virgin snow.
Pictures from here and here.