Ai Weiwei the detained Chinese artist and activist has been made an honourary fellow of Britain’s Royal Academy of Art. The Danish painter Per Kirkeby was also given the accolade. In 2009, the gallery hosted a retrospective of the work of Kirkeby, one of Scandinavia’s most prominent contemporary artists, but it is Ai who is truly the man of the moment. Weiwei has built an international reputation with his work which combines conceptual sculpture with deeply moving political overtones. His fountain currently installed in the Somerset House courtyard is a statement on the looting of Chinese works from the Summer Palace in the 19th century. He is an outspoken critic of the Chinese government and has been under arrest for what China has described as economic crimes. Weiwei was arrested in April trying to board a flight for Hong Kong.The academy said he was being honoured as “one of the most significant cultural figures of his generation”.Each year, the 80 full academicians who all practise in Britain can vote for an honourary international members.
Mr Le Brunof, the co-ordinator of this year’s show said he hoped this would demonstrate what the RA stands for. “We want to remind people the RA is not what they thought it was,” he said.In October, when the artist unveiled a carpet of 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds at London’s Tate Modern Turbine hall, which he said questioned the role of an individual in society. Artists around the world are calling attention to Ai, who they believe is being detained to prevent his voice being heard. Inside China, artists have largely been silent until this week, when a Beijing show featuring 19 artists left a wall blank in tribute to Ai. The dissident artist’s name was listed below a blank space at the Incidental Art Festival, which opened Wednesday.Three further organizers of the festival, including Lin Bing, have disappeared and are believed to be in police detention.
The artist has a high profile in Britain, especially after his Unilever commission called “Sunflower Seeds” in which he covered the floor of the cavernous Turbine Hall with millions of handmade porcelain seed replicas.
The Royal Academy was founded in 1768 with a mission to promote the arts of design in Britain through education and exhibition. The motive in founding the Academy was twofold: to raise the professional status of the artist by establishing a sound system of training and expert judgment in the arts and to arrange the exhibition of contemporary works of art attaining an appropriate standard of excellence. Behind this concept was the desire to foster a national school of art and to encourage appreciation and interest in the public based on recognised canons of good taste. An exhibition of Ai Weiwei’s work is currently running at the Lisson Gallery in London.