The artist Ai Weiwei is one of China’s most prominent artists and one
of the most outspoken critics of the Chinese Communist Party.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is leading an international effort to call for the release of Ai Weiwei, the Chinese Conceptual artist who was taken into police custody in Beijing after he was detained on Sunday while trying to board a flight for Hong Kong. It has gathered the support of the museum community, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Tate in London along with the American Association of Art Museum Directors.
“By using Ai Wei Wei’s favored medium of ’social sculpture,’ we hope to hasten the release of our visionary friend and artist,’’ the Guggenheim Foundation said in a statement on its Web site. The foundation and the museums said in a letter posted with the petition on Facebook and Twitter on Friday addressed to the Minister of Culture of the People’s Republic of China, Cai Wu: “We members of the international arts community express our concern for Ai’s freedom and disappointment in China’s reluctance to live up to its promise to nurture creativity and independent thought, the keys to ‘soft power’ and cultural influence.’’
An artistic adviser for the Olympic National Stadium in Beijing, Mr. Ai has clashed with the Chinese government before. After using his work to raise questions about how officials dealt with the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, in which thousands of schoolchildren were killed in their classrooms, he was beaten by the police in 2009 before he was scheduled to testify at the trial of Tan Zuoren, a writer and activist who was investigating the same issue.
Meanwhile plans are still proceeding to install a 12-piece sculpture, “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads,’’ in Manhattan. Inspired by the fabled fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, an 18th-century imperial retreat just outside Beijing, the work is scheduled to be displayed from May 2 and through July 15 at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue.