A sculpture of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei as a corpse has caused panic in a small German town where passersby have mistaken the work for an actual dead body. Chinese artist He Xiangyu’s sculpture of Weiwei is so lifelike that it has resulted in dozens of calls to the police to report a death in Bad Ems, the town where the work is on display.
The sculpture is called “The Death of Marat” — an art-historical nod to the famous neoclassical painting of French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat, painted by Jacques-Louis David . It depicts Weiwei, who was detained by the Chinese government earlier this year, as lying face down on the gallery floor, deceased. Xiangyu said that he used real human hair, plastic and fiberglass to create the extremely realistic statue. In cribbing the title from David, Xiangyu elevates Weiwei’s status to that of a tragic hero.
Weiwei is famous for his political art and criticism of the Chinese government, as well as his design for the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the Olympic ceremonies in Beijing three years ago. He was imprisoned for 81 days this spring without any charges filed against him. On Nov. 1, Weiwei announced that Chinese authorities have demanded that he pay $2.4 million in back taxes and fines within 10 days. Weiwei said he would not pay the taxes until police returned books that were confiscated in his arrest.
Xiangyu is one of several artists to pay tribute to Weiwei through their own art. Wang Bo, known to his fans as Pi San , created a cartoon that addressed Weiwei’s arrest, “Crack Sunflower Seeds.” To get around censors, Pi San does not mention Weiwei’s arrest directly, but the sunflower seeds are a reference to an exhibition at the Tate Modern in London that contained 100 million handcrafted sunflower seeds .
Though Weiwei is confined to Beijing, an exhibition of his art opened Oct. 26 in Taiwan, with his absence as the subject of the show. “Ai Weiwei, Absent” debuted at Taipei’s Fine Arts Museum with a new work consisting of 1,000 bicycles piled in layers, reflecting his perception of the rapid pace of Chinese social change, according to the Associated Press. The museum installed the exhibition through Weiwei’s e-mailed instructions. Weiwei also coordinated a recent photo shoot for W Magazine via e-mail and Skype.
On Oct. 27, Weiwei was presented with the Wall Street Journal Magazine’s first Innovator of the Year award in the category of art. Performance artist Marina Abramovic spoke on Weiwei’s behalf, calling him “the artist of the future, using technology to invent a different innovating way of communication in a time of restrictions and limitations.”