纽约时报中文网编辑“不清楚鲍栋与尤伦斯有什么关系”的说法有悖于事实。鲍栋写的两篇关于谢德庆和王克平在尤伦斯当代艺术中心的展览的评论，分别刊登于纽约时报中文网2013年7月和2013年10月，鲍栋同时策划2013年尤伦斯大型展览项目《ON | OFF》，在此前鲍栋是田霏宇主编的艺术杂志《艺术界》的特约编辑，发表多篇评论，包括刊发于《艺术界》2013年第3期的《兴伟绘画举要》。纽约时报中文网不可能对鲍栋与尤伦斯、田霏宇之间长期、密切合作关系全然不知。
“There is No Right or Wrong”
A Response to the article “Ai Weiwei Withdraws from Exhibition, Again Causes Controversy”
On May 23rd, 2014, Ai Weiwei withdrew his work from the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) exhibition “Hans van Dijk: 5000 Names”, and on his Instagram account posted a concise statement of explanation: “The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, in their retrospective commemoration of Hans van Dijk, censored historical facts about contemporary art, and deleted my name as Hans’ friend and collaborator. I pulled my works out of the exhibition to cherish the memory of my dear friend Hans, and express my disdain for the bizarre state of contemporary Chinese art.”
On May 29th, the New York Times Chinese Edition published an essay titled “Ai Weiwei Withdraws from Exhibition, Again Causes Controversy”, citing comments by Bao Dong, who believed that the withdrawal “showed no lack of design, and some opportunistic thinking. Like an image in the media, it involved skill, and I believe that Ai Weiwei has firmly grasped this set of skills. So this incident in itself was perhaps neither sudden nor unexpected, but was even planned, tactical… this allowed him to steal the spotlight of the exhibition.” From this point on, Ai Weiwei made several phone calls to the article’s author Luo Tian and Chief Culture Editor Kunkun, with the focus of debate being whether Bao Dong’s subjective ideas were consistent with the New York Times’ claim that it was an “independent third party art review;” or whether there was avoidance of the ideals Ai Weiwei maintained for withrawing from the exhibition and the facts of UCCA’s self-censorship, and distortion and misinformation on the matter of Ai Weiwei’s withdrawal.
During their dialogue with Ai Weiwei, the New York Times repeatedly justified this, emphasizing and holding fast to their “neutral, impartial” standpoint, denying that the New York Times and critic Bao Dong had a extensive history of collaboration constituting interview errors, and denying Bao Dong and UCCA Director Phil Tinari’s mutually beneficial relationship. They refused to admit the bias and errors in the essay.
In April 2014, before Ai Weiwei withdrew from the exibition, the New York Times had commissioned Bao Dong to write a draft covering the “Hans van Dijk: 5000 Names” exhibition. Upon entering the two characters for Bao Dong’s name into the New York Times’ Chinese Edition website, one can see that on July 24th, 2012, the New York Times published Bao Dong’s art review entitled “Occupying the Gallery and the ‘Politics’ of Art” online. Kunkun forwarded the essay that day on his Weibo blog, tagging Bao Dong, and afterwards published many articles citing Bao Dong’s commentary; clearly he is not as the editors’ repeatedly explained, “not close (to us),” “not really an acquaintance,” “seems like I bumped into him at some exhibition by chance and said hello, that’s how it was.”
The New York Times editor’s statement, “(We are) not clear what relationship Bao Dong has to the UCCA,” contradicts fact. Bao Dong published two reviews in the Times on July and October of 2013 respectively about the exhibits of Xie Deqing and Wang Keping at the UCCA; Bao Dong curated the UCCA’s Large Scale Exhibit “ON | OFF” in 2013; prior to this Bao Dong was also a commissioned editor of the art magazine LEAP, of which UCCA Director Phil Tinari was Editor in Chief, in which he published many reviews, including a piece in the magazine’s third issue of 2013 titled “The Essentials of Xingwei Painting”. The New York Times Chinese Edition therefore can not feign ignorance of Bao Dong’s long and intimate affiliation with the UCCA and Phil Tinari.
In their article, The New York Times also cites UCCA Director Phil Tinari’s comments about Ai Weiwei’s withdrawal: “Artists have the right to manipulate things how they want to. There is no right or wrong in this. This has to do with his (Ai Weiwei’s) artistic style and manner; he doesn’t really like opening exhibitions peacefully.” Phil’s flippant blurring of right and wrong, abandoning principles and shirking responsibility evokes the tone of a cultured bureaucrat, playing down the perpetual existence of a censorship system and the facts of his own self-censorship.
In February 2011, the “Ai Weiwei Retrospective” exhibition was on the verge of opening when the UCCA cancelled it, with the curator offering no form of explanation to the artist who had worked in preparation for more than one year. Two months later, Ai Weiwei “disappeared” from the public for 81 days. On April 3rd, 2011, Ai Weiwei was detained at the Beijing airport, and on that same day Sotheby’s Hong Kong auctioned off 400,270,000 HKD worth of modern art collections from the UCCA. Phil Tinari’s assessment that Ai Weiwei “doesn’t really like opening exhibitions peacefully,” is unjust. Ai Weiwei hoped to have a chance to participate in the exhibition, and also hoped that his name would appear in related texts; what he doesn’t like is “disappearing” peacefully.
After Ai Weiwei withdrew from the exhibition, artist Wang Xingwei, after some “consideration,” published an open letter saying, “Pulling out my works is equivalent to criticizing and injuring them! It would be an insult to the hard work of curator Marianne (Brouwer)! It would be an insult to the other participating artists! However, not pulling out my works would not constitute hurting Ai Weiwei!” In May of 2013, the UCCA, under Phil Tinari’s curation, held Wang Xingwei’s personal retrospective exhibition “Wang Xingwei”. Bao Dong wrote an article for LEAP about the exhibition.
In February 2011, Bao Dong’s article “My Golden Raspberry + Palme d'Or Nominations and Speech” mentioned Ai Weiwei: “Last year an important incident was Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds exhibition at the Tate Museum, which attracted people from all over the world… this work was seen as a declaration of political values, as a type of political resistance. In one respect, Ai Weiwei is on the front lines of a political movement – he’s not sitting in his study, he is out there on the front lines, and for this reason has to pay a certain price, and it has been very effective. But on the other hand, regarding this piece Sunflower Seeds, it’s really not that different from Zhang Huan’s work, using substantial funds and enormous space, and extremely concentrated capital… this implies in Ai Weiwei’s usage of the Sunflower Seeds, he is still interpreting the Sunflower Seeds as a type of political symbol, and is still playing on the images of China and politics to make art. In reality, this type of “narrative” style is the same as the autocratic regime style which he criticizes. For instance, besides political positions, isn’t the difference between Ai Wei Wei’s Sunflower Seeds and Zhang Yimou’s tactic of using multitudes the same as the difference between a military ceremony and an exhibition opening? So does political position then decide a piece’s value?”
His other piece, “Occupying the Gallery and the ‘Politics’ of Art,” commented: “Those keywords, slogans, symbols, and images really appear too much, to the point that they are excessively popular and have become a type of “political landscape.” Opposing the reality of political practice, this kind of political activism has already become a carnival-like performance in which occupants and participants discuss some superficial political topics, but they possess neither the ability to take action nor meaningful thought.” The origins of Bao Dong’s and Phil Tinari’s “art reviews” of Ai Weiwei’s withdrawal are clearly visible here.
Discussions about the stifling of free expression and self-censorship are avoided, and situations in which artists’ names are erased and they must withdraw their work exist, make it clear that the debate over Chinese contemporary art is only wishful thinking with “Chinese characteristics”. The questions raised by this incident about values and freedom of speech will not necessarily have any impact on Chinese contemporary art’s destiny – “there is no right or wrong”, only “plans” and “tactics”.
June 4th, 2014