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I have conflicted feelings about Ai Weiwei (arguably China’s most renowned contemporary artist). On one hand his work can be undeniably powerful. He and I went to the same art school (The dear old Art Students’ League of New York) and he is fearless: it takes true courage to stand as a gadfly to the world’s most powerful authoritarian state. Yet, on the other hand, his work partakes obsessively of Warhol’s solipsistic narcissism. Ai exemplifies the toxic studio system which has erased handicraft mastery from art (although, arguably, that very point is a big part of his work) and he has so blurred the lines between art and politics that I wonder if he is not a Chinese politician rather than a Chinese artist. I realize as I write this, that all of these “counter” points could be construed in his favor (and they are certainly the larger part of the reason he has found such immense international success). So my ambiguous feelings about Ai Weiwei probably have to do with my ambiguous feelings about art and politics: which are twin disciplines in a way which is not readily apparent at first. We will explore that kinship and tension later this year as we ask what the purpose of art is anyway (and what the purpose of politics is too—other than to aggrandize a bunch of hypocritical elites).
But, for today, I want to uncritically praise Ai Weiwei because I love the new series he has produced.
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Longtime readers know my love of Chinese porcelain—especially the justly famous cobalt glaze blue-and-white ware which was created in the Yuan Dynasty but flowered into its greatest glory during the Ming Dynasty. Ai Weiwei has used the techniques and style of Ming blue-and-white porcelain to produce a majestic series which exemplifies timeless beauty of the form yet with fully contemporary subjects. The resulting pieces are masterworks. They underline tricky questions about China, art, power, individuals, society, and coercion throughout the ages.
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Naturally they are produced by unknown artisans whom Ai Weiwei enslaved and exploited. But that dynamic also undergirded original Ming ceramic masterpieces (which were made by unknown artisans). Additionally, everything is made that way today. Look around your computer (and AT your computer) unless you are reading this in the far future or are an eccentric potentate, it was all made in a Chinese sweatshop. And the work, with its themes of refugees, escape, conflict, and striving, has a pathos and a human element absent from the courtly dragons, serene pine, and magical peaches of the originals.
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It is amazing stuff. Maybe he can redeem himself in my eyes for smashing a Han urn as a publicity stunt (although I am sure that where he is now laughing atop a pile of money as art curators genuflect before him, my good esteem may not be at the forefront of his concerns)

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Chartreuse Cloud Monster (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, cardboard and paint)

Hypothetically, sometimes, at one’s day job one has a pushy colleague who loudly demands things and stridently lobbies for oh say…all new office furniture.  It is a conundrum whether to simply bow to the wishes of the assertive colleague who demands a credenza from the internet, or whether one should go to one’s superiors and assess whether this is the right use for the office credit card.  One could potentially be caught between bickering superiors fighting over a cheap credenza. Hypothetically.

In unrelated news, office credenzas come packed in extremely heavy cardboard boxes.  This cardboard seemed perfect for building something, so instead of throwing it into a landfill, I cut it out and brought it home to build into strange new life (thereby erasing any unpleasant office politics which may or may not have been involved in its acquisition).

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Tawny Elder Monster (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, cardboard and paint)

Last year I crafted a three-dimensional anglerfish/horse type monster in bright fluorescent colors to go with the blooming cherry tree.  This year I decided to build three ambiguously shaped blossom monsters out of the heavy cardboard from some, uh, office furniture.   The first monster (chartreuse, at the top), was meant to represent the life giving power of spring clouds.  He is a cloud creature squirming with tadpoles–or maybe Yin/Yang spirit energy…however the guests at my party thought he was a three eyed camel with sperm on him (which I guess is also true, from a certain point of view).  I wonder if Henry Moore had to deal with this sort of rough-and-ready interpretation of his abstract sculptures.

The second statue, which may be the best, is an orange figurine somewhere between a wise bird and a tribal warrior.  It has the cleanest lines and the best paint job and it is only marred by a slight tendency to curl up (there is always something!  Especially if one is dealing with cardboard sculpture).

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Pink Sphinx Figure(s?) (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, cardboard and paint)

Finally I made a sort of pink octopus/sphinx with a glowing pink interior. Again one friend looked at it and said “It’s a Pierson’s puppeteer!” (this being a meddlesome three-footed, two-headed extraterrestrial super-being from Larry Niven science fiction novels).

Another friend looked at it and said “Why is it so explicit?  I can’t believe you would show such violent erotic ravishment at your cherry festival!”

So, I guess my blossom monsters are more evocative and more ambiguous than I meant for them to be (I was sort of thinking of them as a cross between Dr. Seuss and African carvings).  Please let me know what you think!  Oh and here is a colored pencil drawing of the orange one cavorting beneath the cherry tree!

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Blooming Cherry Tree (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, colored pencil and ink)

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