Nothing that I have read about Ai Weiwei gives me any indication of his religious beliefs, or even if he has any. What is clear is that there is no distinction in his mind between his art and his life, and that for him, both life and art have a profoundly moral dimension. As the Directors’ Foreword to the catalog of this exhibition states,
Despite being beaten and detained by Chinese officials in his hotel room in 2009, which resulted in a head injury that ultimately required emergency surgery, as well as his arrest and confinement for eighty-one days in 2011, the artist remains through his art and actions to be an advocate for open dialogue and human rights issues. In his artwork, he continues to raise crucial questions about the right to express and conduct oneself freely, about accountability, and about the value of individual lives.Many of the artworks in this show are also stunningly, hauntingly beautiful while asking disturbing questions about the complex relationships between old and new, history and progress, creativity and authenticity. Two that reference the map of China are made from dark, sensuous ironwood, reclaimed from Qing Dynasty temples that have been dismantled to make way for the new construction documented in the large inkjet photographs. Another work consists of 16 Han Dynasty vases, dating from about 200 BCE to 220 CE, which the artist has altered by dipping them in ordinary industrial paint. A nearby wall text asks,
So-called creative behaviors always accompany the issue of “authentic” and “original.” It may be the most important core question, whether a work is original or authentic. And this issue may well be the main point for contemporary art. People are looking for something new. But what on earth is something new? And what is the method of making something new? Can it be fake and at the same time authentic?
Ai Weiwei asks deep questions of both art and life. What is real? What is important? What is really worth doing? Whatever the artist may say about his religious inclinations, these are profoundly spiritual questions that all of us must ultimately answer. Lately, Ai Weiwei has been giving his life and his art to discovering the truth about his government's attempts to hide its own activities against its citizens. To what am I giving my life and art?