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Who’s Ai Weiwei— And Where Is He?

Vase by Ai Weiwei

The Knoxville Museum of Art (www.knoxart.org) is staging the first U.S. exhibit outside New York City of the ceramics of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (pronounced I-way-way). He is China’s first contemporary art megastar, ranked #13 by Art Review magazine on their list of Top 100 Most Powerful Figures in Contemporary Art.

Ai Weiwei is an eclectic, multi-talented artist (pottery, photography, architecture and large-scale installations). In fact, he was the inspiration for the Bird’s Nest Stadium, constructed in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. Having attracted an enormous following through social networking, he’s also an anti-regime spokesman who has championed political and artistic freedom.

His works on display in Knoxville include Han Dynasty-style ceramics, Neolithic earthenware jars decorated with industrial paints or contemporary logos (Coca Cola, for example), and more. Not surprisingly, some refer to him as “Beijing’s Andy Warhol.”

His work is being shown in galleries worldwide. However, this spring he was detained in an undisclosed location by the Chinese government. After being released in June, he has been active again. An exhibition of his New York photographs is currently on view at the Asia Society in New York City.

For more on this controversial artist, see on-line the Frontline PBS documentary film by Alison Klayman titled: Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei? and the feature story (also on-line) by Evan Osnos, the China correspondent for The New Yorker magazine.

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