AI WEIWEI: NEW YORK PHOTOGRAPHS 1983-1993 AT ASIA SOCIETY
The show, entitled Ai Weiwei: New York Photographs 1983-1993, showcased more than 200 unpublished photographs which captured, in unified monochrome compositions, the free-spirited events and creative personalities behind the protest movements which came to define New York’s East Vilage in the 1980s – ‘New York through the eyes of a Chinese artist.’ Weiwei’s retrospective show provided its viewers with a portrait of the ‘atmosphere’ in New York throughout the 1980s.
Guests, including David and Carol Appel, Juliet de Baubigny, enjoyed a creator-led tour of the exhibition by the museum’s Associate Curator, Miwako Tezuka. The exhibition disclosed only a small proportion of the works present in Weiwei’s extensive private collection which accumulates to over 10,000 photographs.
The exhibition invited its viewers to re-acquaint and, in some cases, acquaint themselves with New York’s cultural past. Twenty years on from the snapshots of events in Weiwei’s photographs, his portrayal of New York in the 1980s ignited in his viewers feelings of detachment and dislocation. The New York then is not the New York now but the New York then did exist and does still exist, engrained deep within the fabric of contemporary culture. As Weiwei stated:
“In a flash twenty years have passed, and the New York I knew no longer exists. The appearance of the East Village has totally changed, and many of the people in my photographs are no longer in this world […] Today, looking back on the past, I can see that these photographs are facts, but not necessarily true. After all, any reality is just a factor of change – an unconfirmed moment in the slow march of time. The present always surpasses the past, and the future will not care about today.”Having recently been released from three months detention in China, the show marked the first ever showing of Weiwei’s work outside of China and presented its viewers with a truly unique experience, revealing records of his own personal experiences, thoughts, feelings and attitudes. His photographs of East Village poetry readings, riots in Tompkins Square Park, drag queens at Wigstock, as well-known artists and intellectuals from China, such as filmmaker Chen Kaige, composer Tan Dun and artist Xu Bing, also celebrate what came to emerge as Weiwei’s conceptual art career.
The evening closed with a drinks reception in the Asia Society’s Garden Court. Guests were welcomed into a party space which reflected the evening’s theme of floral décor accented with photographic equipment and discussed Weiwei’s work with the exhibition’s curators and the Society’s Director, Melissa Chiu, poet and writer, Bob Rosenthal and leading art critic, John Leobald Cohen