Tan Zuoren, a fellow activist. (Among other "crimes," Zuoren was investigating substandard construction that caused schools to collapse during the Sichuan earthquake. More than 70,000 people died as a result of the earthquake, including 5300 students who were trapped when schools crumbled around them.) Ai took this picture of himself in custody and posted it on Twitter. During the confrontation, the police struck him on the head, causing a brain hemorrhage. A few days later, he had to have emergency brain surgery. The exhibit also contains pictures of his brain MRI (called "Brain Inflation").
In an unexpected link to the Book Expo, one of the galleys I picked up is Sarah Thornton's 33 Artists in 3 Acts. Thornton was the chief writer in contemporary art for The Economist and takes an interesting look at the work of 33 contemporary artists in her book, with Act I being "Politics." Ai Weiwei is front and center in this section.
While doing her research for the book, Thornton attended a conference on "Designing China" at which Ai Weiwei spoke. It happened to take place in the week between his confrontation with police described above and his emergency brain surgery. A giant welt was visible on the side of his head. The moderator introduced Ai Weiwei by saying, "Weiwei was a consultant on the Bird's Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics and has built an artistic compound in Caochangdi, an area near Beijing where he welcomes his friends and sometimes the police."
I am glad that Andrea and I didn't skip "Ai Weiwei: According to What?" as the work of an unfamiliar artist. I left the exhibit feeling fortunate to live in a place where social activism is protected as free speech. I also left with a newfound respect for the ways in which artists like Ai Weiwei can raise awareness about social issues through their art.
The exhibit runs through August 10th. If you're in the New York area between now and then, I encourage you to take the time to check it out.