TADANORI YOKOO, Destiny, 1997, acrylic on canvas, 227.3 × 181.8 cm. Courtesy the artist, SCAI the Bathhouse, Tokyo; and Friedman Benda, New York.

Wish You Were Here

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

Ai Weiwei’s recent release after his 80-day-long detention at the hands of the Beijing police follows an overwhelming international outcry: interest in his work is stronger than ever. As outraged artists, curators and critics strive to disentangle Ai’s occasional outbursts of acerbic social commentary from his art in an effort to underscore his artistic sanctity, contributing editor Andrew Cohen argues in his feature that in fact Ai’s art and politics have always been deliberately inseparable.

The massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan in March and sparked an ongoing nuclear crisis reminds us that the world as we know it can be upended in an instant. As Japan begins rebuilding, managing editor Ashley Rawlings probes the unearthly foreboding in the posters and canvases of Tadanori Yokoo, a graphic designer-turned-painter whose practice evolved in tandem with Japan’s tumultuous decades of reconstruction immediately following World War II, and whose recent works explore more universal themes such as life, death, humor and pessimism.

In West Asia, the Palestinian Authority’s looming request for the United Nations General Assembly to confer international recognition onto the State of Palestine in September, draws editor-at-large HG Masters to the work of Palestinian artists who address the conditions of the Israeli occupation, from the construction of the separation barrier in 2002 up to the present. Also contemplating the issues of war, borders, exile and migration is Turkish-born Armenian conceptual artist Sarkis, who recently held a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Geneva. Contributing editor Marlyne Sahakian describes the driving force behind Sarkis’ work as “the idea that art has a transformative power—both horizontally, in terms of education and activism, but also vertically, as a way to elevate the human spirit and transcend suffering.”

Despite the international focus on upheaval and landmark changes in recent months, there remains the less sensational topic of state funding for the arts, whose more protracted effect on society may well cast the longer shadow. In Essays, independent curator David Elliott offers a frank critique of the state of museums in the 21st century, while Catherine Wilson provides an unusual glimpse into recent public and private initiatives set to increase opportunities for contemporary artists in Brunei. Moving away from arts funding to the distressing trend of artistic censorship, we invite Tibetan artist Tenzing Rigdol to respond to the recent attack by Hindu fundamentalists, who claimed that his work Bollywood Buddha is blasphemous to Buddha. This also reminds us of the death of MF Husain on June 9, the giant of Indian modern art, who struggled against the same insidious forces of religious fundamentalism for the last 15 years of his life, forcing him into 
self-imposed exile in London, Dubai and Doha since 2006.

Our Profiles, meanwhile, examine artists who literally expose the structures that constitute man and his urban environment. Contributing editor Michael Young considers Shen Shaomin’s critiques of humankind’s attempt to control nature and society. Jyoti Dhar explores Seher Shah’s architecturally inspired drawings that play with monuments and other symbols of power, while Jason Lazarus investigates Jan Tichy’s fascination with the legacy and failure of Modernist architecture, in particular Chicago’s last Cabrini-Green housing project, whose protracted demolition concluded on March 30 this year.

Among our project columns, artist Jaishri Abichandani discusses her admiration for recent Joan Mitchell awardee painter Samira Abbassy; and in our Questionnaire, Taiwan’s Lee Mingwei reveals what he is reading this summer.

Reviews include senior editor Don J. Cohn’s study of the translated Chinese digital texts that were permanently deleted by China’s authorities in Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews and Digital Rants 2006–2009. Finally, Where I Work takes AAP to the Beijing studio of Guan Wei, just a few weeks before his unexpected eviction and the building’s razing on May 30. With bittersweet irony, we recall noticing the sound of planes flying closely overhead, whereupon Guan remarked that his studio, “. . . is a little less likely to 
be redeveloped because Beijingers don’t want to live near a flight path.” Guan and other tenants were given three days to move. The official line: the building did not meet fire regulations.

One cannot help but wonder, if Ai Weiwei was allowed to speak freely today, what would he be tweeting, blogging or saying in public about the gross injustice dealt to Guan Wei and other fellow residents in the building. And for those who remain uncertain over whether Ai is an activist or an artist, it is worth noting that he once said, “Art is about life. Our life is entirely political. Therefore all my art is political.”