Don’t Feel To Bad for Ai Weiwei
Theres been a lot of press recently around famous contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei having recently had his confiscated passport returned to him by the Chinese government after 600 days.
Having been openly critical of the Chinese government, Ai Weiwei was ultimately arrested and detained in April 2011 for ‘economic crimes’ which roughly translated to a failure to pay income tax. Having spent 81 days in detention he was released and given a fine of USD$2.4M.
The point of this article is not to debate his innocence or his guilt, or to be critical or supportive of the Chinese government. Whilst the western media has been particularly keen in presenting a certain picture of China and the hardship that Ai Weiwei has endured, we also shouldn’t forget that Ai Weiwei’s fame and fortune will grow exponentially as a result of this period of his life. Thats just how the art world works — promotion is everything!
Whilst there has undoubtedly been some questionable actions taken against Ai Weiwei in retaliation for his outspoken views against the Chinese government the over sensationalisation of his so called ‘hardship’ by western media is perhaps a little over the top.
Yes, detention for 81 days is pretty horrendous but much has also been made of his 600 day period where he was unable to leave Beijing. Just so you know — Beijing is massive (theres plenty to do!) and Ai Weiwei lives in a ginormous house, very comfortably. He wasn’t exactly slumming it and struggling financially.
As number 8 on our list of the Top 15 Contemporary Chinese Artists Ai Weiwei’s works have sold at exceptionally high prices in auction. His current auction record is USD$4.7m and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this eclipsed given all the recent media attention and his newfound ability to travel internationally once more. Of course his 2 highest auction records both came in 2015 no less!
You see, whilst hes undergone some relatively short term hardship (fairly or unfairly), the art industry and the subsequent prices that work can fetch is really all about effective promotion & marketing — you can be a truly exceptional artist, but put up against a less able artist with excellent representation and there is no doubt who’ll fetch the highest prices in time.
Ai Weiwei could genuinely not have got better promotion for himself and his works than being arrested and detained by the Chinese government. It has absolutely fueled his exposure to a broader audience and will generate significant interest in his future works both within the region and internationally.
Below shows the volume of searches globally on ‘Ai Weiwei’ from 2004 till 2015. Just look at the jump and continued trend of searches post his 2011 arrest, which drove the highest spike in searches for the artists name. I’m sure as more data becomes available through the remainder of 2015 you will see further spikes and growth.
Bottom line — he was famous before, hes definitely even more famous now — he was wealthy before, and hes going to be even more wealthy in the future as a result of everything that has transpired up to now.
Don’t feel to bad for him — hes weathered the storm and he’ll be just fine!