“Missing Person: Ai Weiwei, male, 53 years old. On April 3, 2011 around 8:30, at Beijing Capital International Airport, before boarding a flight to Hong Kong, he was taken away by two men. More than fifty hours later, present whereabouts remains unknown.
Please, anyone who knows the whereabouts of the above, contact the family”
Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei has been detained by the Chinese government for one week as of today, April 10, 2011. The 53-year old artist, who has been “suspected of economic crimes,” was last seen at the airport in Beijing. Since last Sunday there has been no word from Ai Weiwei, nor his friend Wen Tao, 38, who was detained on the same day.
In honor of Ai, I made a list of ten other visual artists whose work has incited their own incarceration in recent years. (I have intentionally excluded graffiti artists, as their run-ins with the law are hardly exceptional.)
Top Ten Artists of the Clink:
The text in Shednov’s painting above says: ‘Oh I don’t know – a third Presidential term? It is a bit too much….on the other hand, three is a charm.’
1. Alexander Shednov
Painter Alexander Shednov, also known as Shurik, proved that if you put former President Putin in a dress and hoops, the Russian secret service will put you in jail. Shednov was arrested and purportedly beaten in June of 2009 according to The Daily Mail.
2. Chris Drew
Chicago based Artist Chris Drew videotaped his own arrest, and then he was arrested.
3. Wafaa Bilal
Arrested for his political artwork in opposition of Sadaam Hussein, Iraqi-born Artist Wafaa Bilal spent two years in a refuge camp in Saudi Arabia. He now lives and works in the United States, where a 2010 project called “The Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Ji-Hadi” also stirred controversy–the goal of this video game was to kill former President George W. Bush.
Bilal made headlines (though not for any arrests) in 2011 when he surgically implanted a camera into his skull as part of an art project called “The 3rd I.” The artist has been quoted: “All art is political.”
4. Spencer Tunick
Mexico City 7 (Zócalo, MUCA/UNAM Campus), 2007, c-print mounted between plexi, 37.5 x 30 in (95.25 x 76.2 cm), Copyright © Spencer Tunick
For his fifth arrest in New York City, Spencer Tunick managed to convince 150 people to disrobe and lie in the middle of Times Square in New York City on April 25, 1999. The New York Times reported that Tunick, who has photographed his installations of public nudity all over the world, was charged with unlawful assembly.
5. Gregorius Nekscot
Gregorius Nekschot is the pen-name for the incendiary Dutch cartoonist who was arrested on May 13, 2008 for his satirical cartoons.
On February 23 of this year, The Independent ran a story on the arrest of two members of the activist group Voina, Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev. The group has covered much territory over the past three years– a mock execution in a Moscow supermarket, a punk rock performance in a courtroom, hurling live cats at McDonald’s cashiers, and painting an enormous penis on a bridge in St Petersburg.
2007 performance in Moscow by Voina. Photograph: Thomas Peter /Reuters
The members of Voina overstepped the imaginary boundary between controversial performance art and the big house with a piece called “Palace Revolution” in which seven police cars were flipped.
7. Jani Leinonen
Finland’s own Jani Leinonen was also arrested this past February in Helsinki. While no cats were harmed in Leinonen’s work, the scene of the crime/performance was once again a McDonald’s Restaurant. The Food Liberation Army (aka the FLA) posted a series of Youtube videos demanding that the fast food giant answer eight demands about the production of its food…or else.
The unanswered pleas of the FLA resulted in the execution of a plastic Ronald McDonald statue, the contraband which prompted the police to arrest Leinonen and his accomplices.
FYI: My interview with Jani Leinonen this past February will be posted on the Art21 blog on April 20.
8. Andrea Bowers
Andrea Bowers in her 2009 video, "Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Training -- Tree Sitting Forest Defense"
American Artist Andrea Bowers was arrested this January for trespassing and resisting a police officer. Bowers, who is based in Los Angeles, was obstructing justice and the demolition of trees slated to be cut down by L.A. County Department of Public Works.
9. Wu Yuren
On the same day that Ai Weiwei was taken into custody, Chinese Artist Wu Yuren was released from custody after nearly a year according to The China Post last Thursday. Along with Ai, Wu lead a protest against the assaults on those who tried to contend the demolition of an art district in Beijing in February 2010. From the New York Times last November: “Mr. Wu may have also angered the authorities by signing Charter 08, the manifesto calling for free elections that brought its main author, Liu Xiaobo, an 11-year jail sentence — and the Nobel Peace Prize.”
10. Thomas Kinkade, (Dis)honorable Mention
While the arrests of the other artists on this list all resulted from political activism, Thomas Kinkade is an exception. However, I could not resist mentioning his 2010 arrest.
The “Painter of Light” and “America’s most collected living artist,” as he is described on his personal website, Thomas Kinkade was arrested in June of 2010 for driving under the influence (Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2010).
Thomas Kinkade, Windsor Manor