Art Review have placed Ai Weiwei at the top of it's Power 100 list for 2011.
Ai Weiwei has been getting a lot of coverage here in London recently, with his show at the Tate and subsequent arrest in China. In response to Art Review the Chinese government made a statement: "We feel that a selection that is based purely on a political bias and perspective has violated the objectives of the magazine".
Interestingly, Art Review don't appear to disagree. They say the choice is "as a result of his activism as much as his art practice". It's true that Ai Weiwei is very popular here in London at the minute, and that a very important component of that popularity is the notion of his defiance toward a powerful state machine.
It occurs to me as I write that comments could be made at this stage about why it is that the narrative about Chinese state censorship is so popular here in the West. It seems to me that underlying it are general fears over the future balance of power in the world, and the West's place within it, especially against the backdrop of the economic crisis.
But the reason I actually decided to post this was because it makes an interesting point about creative context - a subject I've been discussing a lot recently. From the Ai Weiwei bio page:
"Most important of all, Ai's activities have allowed artists to move away from the idea that they work within a privileged zone limited by the walls of a gallery or museum. They have reminded his colleagues and the world at large of the fact that freedom of expression is a basic right of any human being. In the process, Ai has promoted the notion that art's real context is not simply 'the market' or 'the institution', but what's happening now, around us, in the real world."
The ideas here aren't new, but this is more a refresher. They are gently suggesting that no subject be off the page for artists, i.e. that art be contextually universal, which I think is a very nice idea. But in more concrete terms, the are talking about freedom of expression and human rights.
The decision may actually be a reflection on the fact that culturally we appear living in newly politicised times.