Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Art Critic

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has now become an art critic. See

Apparently, Mr. Barford wants Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei (who has already been imprisoned by Chinese authorities for his pro-democracy activities) "arrested" for his use of common ancient artifacts for purposes of modern art.

There may be a long artistic tradition of transforming the old into the new, but Barford will have no part of it.

In any case, isn't Ai Weiwei's transformation of the old artifacts in some ways better than letting such common artifacts gradually turn to dust in some forgotten storage facility? Unfortunately, that is the fate of many artifacts in the supposed care of the archaeological community.

Addendum: This is how a website called, "the Artist and His Model" describes Ai Weiwei's art:

Many of Ai Weiwei’s works from the past decade, for example, are made of local materials and of antique Chinese objects: tables and chairs from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, wood, doors and windows from demolished temples and traditional houses, freshwater pearls, tea, marble, stone, bamboo etc. – ‘ready-mades’ trans¬lated into a conceptual, post-minimalist idiom.

Alternatively, for his colored vase series, he takes Neolithic vases (5000 – 3000 B.C.) and paints them careless with bright industrial colors. Then he places them in an Allan McCollum style.

The vases are authentic antique vases which could just as easily have stood in a collection in a historical museum in China. Yet it is not contempt for China’s history and tradition that lies behind this harsh treatment of the fine old antiques – on the contrary. His use of the vases should rather be seen as a Dadaistic gesture, as black humour and as a political comment on the organized destruction of cultural and historical values that took place, especially during the Cultural Revolution, when every¬thing old was to be replaced by the new. This stopped after the death of Mao, but the destruction and erosion of Chinese culture continues to this day – now under cover of economic progress.

Ai Weiwei points to the loss of culture by transforming the historical objects into something new – into moving and highly sensual contemporary artworks which thanks to their aesthetic beauty recirculate the meaning and history of these valuable cultural artefacts.

See http://theartistandhismodel.com/2011/02/ai-wei-wei/


kyri said...

i dont think you are going to get any support on this from genuine antiquities collectors.every piece is unique, using them in this way is a disgrace.your defending the indefensible.what he is doing is not art,its vandalism.

kyri said...

as a passionate collector of antiquities i dont often agree with paul barford but in this case he is right.did you see what this guy is doing to these pieces befor you posted on your blog?your realy not doing us collectors any favours by spouting this rubbish.

Cultural Property Observer said...

I’m not sure I said I approve of what he is doing, but it is true that artists have long transformed old art into new. In the Middle Ages, ancient coins were incorporated into religious art. Today, coins are made into jewelry and postage stamps are incorporated into prints. I seem to recall reading about Ban Chiang pottery being added to early 20th century art. And recently, the Chinese themselves commemorated their seafaring prowess by gluing old coins to new and throwing both into the sea. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2010/03/old-chinese-coins-sacrificed-to-sea.html I also recently recall seeing a story about an artist who transformed old books into art. Some book lovers were incensed, but the truth is the old books he used were likely destined for the trash anyway. Under the circumstances, I think you may be overreacting a bit to Ai Weiwei’s artistry.

kyri said...

dropping a han dynasty vase to the floor is not artistic,in any way,or am i just being old fasiond.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Presumably it would not be art if he did not photograph it. The act of photographing it made it art.... even if it is not your cup of tea.