Ai Weiwei Accused of Being a Great Artist

If bad artists copy and great artists steal, as Picasso quipped, Ai Weiwei has been paid a high, if backhanded, compliment. Chinese art’s provocateur-in-chief has been charged with plagiarism after being arrested at an airport in Beijing on April 3. Foreign governments have called for the artist’s release, according to the New Yorker, which published this fascinating profile of the professional rabble-rouser last year. In his last interview before his arrest, the artist said, “China in many ways is just like the middle ages.”

As part of a recent installation at Tate Modern, Ai Weiwei had 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds hand-made and painted and spread over the floor of the museum’s Turbine Hall (“Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen”). The dust generated by visitors walking over the installation forced the museum to temporarily close it for health reasons.

Websites supporting Ai Weiwei have appeared in response to news of the arrest. Tate Modern expressed its support for the artist by displaying a banner on an outside wall demanding his release, and a protest has been held outside the museum.

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