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Special Exhibition Of Works By Renowned Chinese Dissident Artist Opens In Springfield

an art exhibit
Paul Tuthill

An exhibit of works by an artist and activist once described as “China’s most dangerous man” has opened in western Massachusetts. 

    Works by the contemporary artist Ai Weiwei, a human rights activist and vocal critic of the Chinese government, are on display at the Springfield Museums’ D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts.

     It is a coup for the Springfield Museums to have an exhibit of Ai’s work, said Heather Haskell, Vice President and Director of the Art Museums.

   "We regard it as one of the most important shows that we've ever had here at the museum," said Haskell. "He is an exceptional artist. He is considered one of the most important artists working today."

    On view are 22 works that Ai produced over three decades beginning in the 1990s after he returned to China from the United States.   Included with the exhibit is a biographical timeline of the artist.

    Ai was one of the artists who designed the so-called “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.   He later denounced it.  He’s been arrested twice in China for political dissent.

   Haskell said his work addresses social justice and also connects traditional Chinese art practice and modern modes of expression.

    "It is the message behind the art that is the most important thing," Haskell said. "We hope our visitors really consider what he is saying  here."

   The exhibit includes examples of Ai’s revival of craftsmanship practices from the past such as wood joinery, porcelain painting, and marble sculpting.   Also on display is his depiction of the 12 animals of the ancient Chinese zodiac created from LEGO bricks.

    The works on display are owned by AW Asia, a private New York-based organization that promotes contemporary Chinese art.  Founding Director Taliesin Thomas described Ai Weiwei as a “rabble-rouser.”   

   "With Ai Weiwei you have a very provocative story line as it evolves out of the extraordinarly narrative that is the 5,000-year history of Chinese art," Thomas said.  "Ai Weiwei represents a contemporary voice with respect to that very complex and enormous civilization and the esthetic culture of China."

    Maggie North, curator of art for the Springfield Museums, said the Ai Weiwei exhibit continues a trend of bringing more contemporary art to the D’Amour.

      "Here in the context of the D'Amour Museum ( the Ai Weiwei exhibit) is surrounded by American and European artwork, so it is providing our visitors with a really different perspective," North said.

   The exhibition, “Ai Weiwei: Tradition and Dissent” is on display through January 2, 2022.


Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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