After Ai Weiwei saw that his name had been omitted from press release statements for an upcoming exhibition at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing late last month, the artist and dissident pulled his own work from the show in what he said was an act of “defiance of UCCA and the false portrayal of Chinese contemporary art”. Today, Ai posted to his Instagram account the transcript from a follow-up conversation that he had with Philip Tinari, director of UCCA, wherein he accuses Tinari of self-censorship and tells him “you don’t have to ruin yourself with this Chineseness”.
The events leading up to the conversation began unfolding just before May 23, when Ai posted photos to his Twitter and Instagram accounts showing his work being removed from the show at his order.
“Yesterday, UCCA Beijing opened an exhibition in memory of my long-time friend and collaborator Dai Han Zhi [the Chinese version of Hans van Dijk]. In their public newsletter for the exhibition, they intentionally erased my name and changed the facts regarding our historical collaboration in the foundation of Chinese contemporary art throughout the 1990s. Therefore, to honor the memory of my dear friend, I pulled my work out of the exhibit in defiance of UCCA and the false portrayal of Chinese contemporary art.”
Art news site Randian Online speculates that Ai was referring specifically to an email newsletter which omitted his name, possibly out of fear of censorship on China’s web. As Ai acknowledges, his name is labeled on captions and wall texts throughout the exhibition itself.
Two days later, Ai apparently had a talk with Tinari at the UCCA cafeteria and recorded this conversation, which he posted today along with a series of photos.
Ai: […] You know, you don’t have to have me. I don’t need to have an exhibition. I don’t like these dirty deals, under the table, everybody understands.
Philip: Ok. It was not. Your name was all over, it was all over the exhibition, it was the stupid press release.
A: Come on, I don’t want my name to be all over the exhibition. The press release is the public announcement. The most important, you know?
P: [it’s not the] most important, you know, I think the show is the most important.
A: You don’t think a public release is important? As a curator? You know all the press gets the same information. All the public gets the same information. I don’t want you to show me under the table.
P: It’s not under the table the name is right there next to it.
A: So you think it’s justified?
P: I think my boss made a decision that she had to make because she was being threatened and it wasn’t my—
A: —She called me and said that you and her discussed and agreed to take my name down.
Ai asked Tinari if he considered the omission a scandal, saying “Don’t you stand behind artists or friends or any moral issues or artistic issues like this?”
A: […] You guys just self-censor and you try to…I don’t know what you’re trying to do.
P: […] It’s not self-censoring.
A: It’s not self-censoring? So what are you doing then?
P: Asked by the management of 798.
A: Well your boss told me it’s a self-censor, she decided and then discussed with you and you also agreed with it…I’m very disappointed.
P: I know you are…and I’m sorry.
[…] I have to think…I can’t get the museum shut down on my watch.
A: Come on, you’re over-stating this. I know and I’m not criticizing you, we are still friends.
P: It’s a decision I’m not allowed to make. You know, I’m a stupid foreigner, I shouldn’t even be in China, right? I know that’s what you probably think. But like, I’m dong what I try to do, and it’s the best I can do.
A: You’re young, you don’t have to do this. You have a bright future, you don’t have to ruin yourself with this Chineseness. You don’t have to do it!
At the beginning of May, Ai’s name and work had been removed from an exhibition at Shanghai’s Power Station of Art ahead of its opening because of pressure from local governments, the artist said.
The show’s organizer, Uli Sigg, said he’d considered calling the show off, but chose instead to express complaint during his opening comments.
“We were not really a party to this,” Sigg said. “In the end it was the Power Station and the cultural bureau. In the end we said we must accept. We don’t understand but we must accept that his works will not be in there,” he told the New York Times.
Ai posted to his Instagram account a photo of two boxes containing the porcelain sunflower seeds from his display that had been left in the museum office.