the sculptures terrassed
Okay, I love Ai Weiwei, and all his creatures, perhaps more than anyone I know, but I'm going to be a little grumpy here. I left the apartment early today, much earlier than I am want to (or ever want to) in order to be a part of the unveiling of "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads," the artist's installation at the Pulitzer Fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel. I'm an incorrigible activist, and I think of Ai as an activist as much as as an artist. I thought I would be joining a crowd of fellow enthusiasts dedicated to the artist and to what he has come to stand for all over the world (even before he was "disappeared," which is now more than a month ago).
I didn't expect a huge throng, and since it was raining, I told myself I wasn't going to be too disappointed if the numbers were modest. But I didn't expect to be disappointed, as I very much was, both by the installation and by the event. When I arrived I saw that the subject of numbers had become irrelevant; I was able to enter the establishment precinct surrounded by steel barricades only by identifying myself as a member of the press. I didn't know I would otherwise have had to have an invitation.
Zodiac Heads and talking heads
It was described several times during the ceremony as Ai Weiwei's first public art installation, but the public was not permitted to be a part of the event (apparently only "dignitaries" and the press were allowed in).
The occasion was supposed to be a celebration of a youthful, bold and courageous artist, but there were only suits and a few older pros in the temporary shelter with the Mayor (twelve of them had been asked to recite short excerpts from Ai's writings).
The work means nothing outside of its conceptual element, but there was no mention of that. The public talk was only about its eye-appeal and importance, whatever that may have actually meant to the speakers during the ceremony and in the Q&A after.
The title of the piece is "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads," but oddly there was no circle.
The artist was absent from the event, hosted by the city which he loved and which we shared with him for over ten years, only because of his magnificent activism, but there was no room today for activism, aside from that of Susan Henoch, who was holding two hand-written signs ("where is weiwei!" and "free weiwei") just outside the police barricades.
the demonstration, outside the barricades
Ai Weiwei's work was there, but the artist was not. Of course this was not the fault of the organizers or of the well-meaning folks who took part in the event, but I missed any sense of loss, or urgency, in the conventional procedures to which we were witness. It felt like a ribbon-cutting ceremony on some dull, secure site not accessible to ordinary people. It wasn't only uninspiring; it was lifeless.
Actually, maybe Ai Weiwei's work wasn't really there. I know I didn't feel it. For an event intended to celebrate an artist and his art, maybe the most damning verdict I could hand over was, for me, the surprising absence of art in the scene on Grand Army Plaza today, and only part of that was the fault of the gracelessness in the placement of the 12 zodiac heads*. I have to believe Weiwei would have had it all very much otherwise.
They are supposed to be installed in a circle, and ideally, I think, around a fountain, but their arrangement here, in an arc stepping up and across the lower terraces of the Pulitzer Fountain, seemed a bit like my childhood memories of church, when the florist would arrange huge flower baskets in front of the altar on the occasion of some important wedding (or funeral).