Subversion For Sale

Henry Stewart has an uneasy feeling about Ai Weiwei-branded merch:

[T]he commodification of Ai Weiwei is more intense than that of any other living artist, rivaled only, maybe, by, like, Van Gogh. You can buy Ai Weiwei smart phone cases and tablet skins; you can buy Ai Weiwei snap bracelets; you can buy mugs and buttons and wallets and scarves and skate decks and tea towels and handkerchiefs and luggage tags and an umbrella with his middle finger printed on the top. Most of these items include a quote from the Larry Warsh-edited 120-page book (also for sale!) Weiwei-isms, which, according to marketing copy, “demonstrates the elegant simplicity of Ai Weiwei’s thoughts on key aspects of his art, politics, and life.”

Troublingly, for me, most of these quotes alienate Ai from his politics and turn him into a vaguely political aphorist whose pithy observations could be co-opted by the Communist censors themselves. They’re too simple. “My favorite word? It’s ACT,” is the one most printed on stuff you can buy, though other popular ones are “My activism is a part of me” and “Everything is art. Everything is politics.”