Mark Lamster | Essays

The Plight of the Political Artist

In a post on his blog entitled This Cannot Pass, Lebbeus Woods, who might be the conscience of the architectural profession, has vowed to accept no further commissions in China until Ai Weiwei is released from detention, unharmed. I hope the latter portion of this demand/plea is still a possibility. 

As the author of a book on an artist, Peter Paul Rubens, who was both a diplomat and a spy, I am particularly attuned to the uneasy relationship between the artist and the state. Rubens spent much of his career working for unsavory regimes, institutions, and individuals for whom he had little respect. As an artist, he was prone to load his images with subtle (and sometimes not subtle at all) political messages warning of the dangers of war and expressing his humanist values. As a diplomat, he was for the most part a peace-maker, a pragmatist in a dogmatic time. Rubens wasn't the type to overthrow the institutions of his era, but to reform them from within, and he was willing to put his life on the line to do so.  

Ai Weiwei's relationship to the state is more deliberately confrontational, and dramatizes with disturbing force the very difficult question as to whether engagement is better than isolation. A few weeks ago, I asked here and also on the site of the Glass House, whether it is acceptable to accept work from a government with a poor record on human rights. There was no clear consensus.

I admire Lebbeus for taking a stand and I share in his call for Ai Weiwei's release. 

Comments [3]

James Erard

That Lebbeus Woods is allowed to build anything is already surprising, but not surprising in that it is in China. Fortunately, he seems to be able to live on his non-built work for years and thus can make this bold statement.

As for other architects, I doubt many of them or even any of them have the balls to say the same thing.

Any comments from Herzog and deMeuron on this? or are they counting money in Switzerland?

Free Ai Weiwei.
mao isdung

Excellent and droll comment by the spot-on "mao isdung".

Ai Weiwei, imprisoned for 20 days now- and what happened to hilary Clinton yapping her trap all lovey dovey in support for ai weiwei? Is just saying something once enough- probably, for that kind of politican. Follow through for once!

ryan fetters

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