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April 4, 2013

The Must See Art Film: “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”

This Sundance Special Jury Prize-Winning Doc. Screens April 8 at Plaza Theater with Live Q& A with its Filmmaker Alison Klayman

By Nancy Staab

He’s China’s answer to Andy Warhol: Meet contemporary artist, conceptualist, “dissident for the digital age,” professional Black Jack master, political/cultural prankster and co-architect of China’s “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium, Ai Weiwei, via this thought-provoking film.

The film poster for Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and works by the Chinese artist The film poster for Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and works by the Chinese artist

He’s China’s most significant contemporary artist and has been likened by The New York Times to “China’s version of Andy Warhol.” 

The congenial, good humored artist Ai Weiwei has, Zelig-like, penetrated all corners of the international art world--courting growing world fame, while maintaining his own artist factory in suburban China. Along the way, Ai Weiwei has channeled his creativity and courageous advocacy of freedom into the mediums of sculpture, Duchamp like ready-mades (see his sculptures comprised of bicycles), photography, film, blogs (until the repressive Chinese government shut him down), twitter commentary, music and pop culture (see his video version of Korean rap star PSY’s dance hit Gangnam Style), and even architecture.

The The "Birds Next" Bejiing National Stadium co-created by Ai Weiwei and Herzog and de Meruron

As an architect Weiwei co-designed the iconic, lattice-work “Bird’s Nest” stadium for China’s  2008 Olympics. Designed in collaboration with the Swiss architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron—the open structure of the stadium was meant to be a visual metaphor for the need for an open, transparent society In China. Weiwei has also designed other projects, including his own studio and the stunning Tsai Residence which is located in the U.S. In fact, the Tsai Residence won props from Wallpaper magazine and New York Magazine. The latter publication described the residence’s guest house as a “floating boomerang of rusty Cor-Ten steel.”

As a visual artiest, Weiwei tends to craft big statement pieces that often comment on political/cultural tragedies, whether a “snake” formation of backpacks to signify the loss of thousands of children’s lives in China during an earthquake, due to the poor construction of buildings; or a mound of millions of meticulously hand-painted, porcelain sunflower seeds that comment on mass production in China, among other things.

In one of his more famous artistic gestures, Weiwei hand-dipped 2,000-year-old Han Dynasty pottery in day-glo paints or emblazoned these cultural artifacts with commercial Coca-Cola logos.

Recently he created a tribute wall mural to  Chilean poet Pablo Neruda on the grounds of a former Chilean prison

Han Dynasty urns dipped in Day-Glo colors by Ai Weiwei Han Dynasty urns dipped in Day-Glo colors by Ai Weiwei

But as the prison wall art alludes, it’s not all merry pranksterism in Weiwei’s world. He is the son of a famous poet/ father, Ai Quing, who was cruelly sentenced to hard labor camp for many years by the Chinese government during the Cultural Revolution because they disapproved of his poetry, though it was not overtly political. Weiwei spend much of his childhood at these camps. As an adult artist, Weiwei has absorbed his father’s wounds and made his own artistic critique of the Chinese government very overt. This has cost him countless lengthy imprisonments on vague, trumped up charges like tax evasion. He's also endured psychological torture; the demolishment of his experimental artists’ village; enforced confinement in his own country, and various other forms of punishment. Global freedom fighters like Vaclav Havel and art influencers around the world have at various times called for the Chinese government to release him. Occasionally Weiwei has been permitted to leave China. When he was a young artist he spent several years in New York City.  

Even when confined to China, Weiwei's art work has managed to travel the world from shows at London’s Tate Modern and D.C.’s The Hirshhorn to the Venice Bienniale. The multi-tasking Weiwei also keeps  a hand in the international art world by curating exhibits around the globe, serving on digital media panels with the likes of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and acting as a jurist at European film festivals. In Oct. 2011 ArtReview ranked Ai Weiwei number one on its annual Power 100 List.  

Most recently, Ai Weiwei, who currently maintains a Twitter feed @aiww, has announce to Los Angles Times that after 81 days of imprisonment in 2011, in which he was only allowed to sing official Chinese People’s Liberation Army songs, he has developed a yen for music and wishes to create a heavy metal album named after Dante’s Divine Comedy.

He is also at work on a film with Hong Kong cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who often collaborates with famed filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai. No word yet on the subject of the planned film.

In the meantime, the current documentary "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry"  should prove fascinating, based on its subject matter alone.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

The product of then-24-year-old, American filmmaker Alison Klayman, the documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, promises unprecedented access to this fascinating and outspoken artist.

Perhaps the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern sums up the documentary best:

“As a freelance journalist turned first-time director, Ms. Klayman has pulled of an impressive coup. “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry’ provides a vivid primer on Mr. Ai’s art….on his social and political provocations….Yet the film’s greatest distinction is its intimacy. By now Mr. Ai is an institution, a global brand that represents the power of art in the face of tyranny, obduracy or epic stupidity. He doesn’t behave like an institution, though. The man we see talking to the camera is funny, articulate (in English as well as Chinese), quietly personable, eminently accessible and all too aware of his own vulnerability. His is a special kind of courage, and it impels him to act with a special agility in a brave new world of his own making, where little tweets can challenge big lies and a blog post can echo like thunder” -- July 26, 2012


On Monday April 8 at 7PM Emory Department of Film and the Atlanta Film Festival will host a screening of the documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” and a Q&A with filmmaker Alison Klayman at Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. Admission is $10. For more info: 404.727.6761


See a trailer for this documentary in link below:



Installation piece by Ai Weiwei Installation piece by Ai Weiwei