Ai Weiwei Third On Time Magazine Person Of The Year List

Topped by The Protester, Admiral William McRaven, and Kate Middleton

Time magazine has named Ai Weiwei as third on its annual list of the good and the great, for 2011. It was topped by “The Protester”. In its annual review of the news round-up, the magazine has chosen the popular demonstrations, that defined 2011, as the winner of this important accolade. The selecting a ‘Man of the Year’ began in 1927 with Time editors contemplating newsworthy stories, possible during a slow news week. The idea was also an attempt to remedy the editorial embarrassment earlier that year of not having aviator Charles Lindbergh on its cover following his historic trans-Atlantic flight. By the end of the year, it was decided that a cover story featuring Lindbergh as the Man of the Year would serve both purposes. Since then, individual people, classes of people, the computer, and Planet Earth have all been selected for the special year-end issue. In 1999, the title was changed to Person of the Year. However, the only woman to win the renamed recognition individually have been “The Whistleblowers” (Cynthia Cooper, Coleen Rowley, and Sherron Watkins in 2002) and Melinda Gates (jointly with Bill Gates and Bono in 2005). Before that, four women were granted the title as individuals as Woman of the Year–Wallis Simpson in 1936, Soong May-ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek) in 1937, Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, and Corazon Aquino in 1986. Several classes of people comprise both men and women or women only, namely Hungarian Freedom Fighter in 1956, “U.S. Scientists” in 1960, Twenty-Five and Under in 1966, The Middle Americans in 1969, “American Women” in 1975, “The American Soldier” in 2003, You in 2006, and “The Protester” in 2011. As a result of the public backlash it received from the United States for naming the Ayatollah Khomeini Man of the Year in 1979, Time has shied away from using figures that are controversial in the United States.

Protest was a defining theme of 2011 with the Occupy Wall Street campaign which spread worldwide, the Arab Spring and Ai Weiwei the dissident Chinese protester, at the centre of the largest protests since Tiananmen Square. In recent weeks the Russian rallies have continued to make waves in raising the conscience of the public to corruption and vote rigging.

Time magazine says protesters have “redefined people power around the world and been the force behind the biggest news stories of the past 12 months” The second place on the shortlist went to Admiral William McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command of the U.S. mission that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In third place, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, whose 81 day detention by the Chinese authorities sparked an international media storm. U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan was fourth. And last but not least the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, who’s marriage to Prince William in April created a feel good factor for many, completed the top of the list. Last year, the Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg won the honour.

Through his work Ai Weiwei addresses issues pertinent to contemporary China; notably the loss of historic material culture due to rapid modernization and the effects of the global economy on traditional modes of production. His work also engages with broader themes, including perceptions of value, mass production and brand globalization, such as Coca Cola. Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing, China, where he lives and works. Solo exhibitions include Stiftung DKM, Duisburg (2010); Museum of  Contemporary Craft, Portland (2010); Arcadia University Gallery, Glenside (2010); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2009); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2009); Three Shadows Photography Art Center, Beijing (2009); Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Cambelltown Arts Center, Sydney (2008); Groninger Museum, Groningen (2008). Group exhibitions include the São Paulo Biennial (2010); Biennale Architecture, Venice (2008); Documenta 12, Kassel (2007) and Tate Liverpool (2007).Widely considered to be one of the most significant cultural figures of his generation in China and internationally, Ai Weiwei successfully occupies multiple roles as a conceptual artist, architect, curator, designer, film-maker, publisher and activist. Using a variety of formal languages with both traditional and innovative methods of production, Ai links the past with the present and explores the geopolitical, economic and cultural realities affecting the world with humour and compassion.

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