Last Sunday, April 17, the Bay Area art community staged a sit-in at the Chinese consulate calling for the immediate release of Ai Weiwei. The celebrity artist/provocateur and irritant to the Chinese government was arrested April 4 while attempting to board a flight to Hong Kong. His whereabouts and condition remain unknown. The government has since alluded to crimes committed – including tax evasion, possession of pornography and bigamy – but those close to the artist dismiss the charges, saying Ai’s arrest is part of widespread crackdown designed to crush any potential uprising that might be inspired by those now roiling the Middle East.
Cheryl Haines, Ai’s SF dealer, organized the local protest. It was matched by similar demonstrations at Chinese consulates around the world. The one in SF drew a crowd that included, among many others, the artist Enrique Chagoya and the critic and curator of contemporary Chinese art, Jeff Kelley. The group held signs, passed around a platter of sunflower seeds (alluding to Ai’s installation of 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds in the Turbine Hall of London’s Tate Modern) and re-enacted, at a vastly smaller scale, Ai’s 2007 installation of 1001 chairs, Fairytale, in Kassel, Germany.
Ai Weiwei is a part of Presidio Habitats, the first site-based exhibition created for a national park. The exhibition runs through May 15, 2011 and is organized by the FOR-SITE Foundation in partnership with the Presidio Trust.