The scene at the Italian buffet dinner (Roppongi Hills Club, 51/F) that followed resembled a night in Ai’s now shuttered restaurant Qu Na’r circa 2005. Each impromptu table comprised an orb of affinity and interest, with groups falling in and out of alignment as the night wore on. Everyone wanted a piece of the bearded master, who in turn preferred to crack jokes in Chinese to his lieutenants, all of whom were outfitted in Issey Miyake purchased during a “thank-you” shopping spree at the end of twelve days installing. Around the room there were Ai’s dealers—Urs Meile, Christophe Mao, Cheryl Haines, Marc Benda—and auction house folks like Phillips de Pury’s Chin Chin Yap and Jeremy Wingfield and Guardian’s Xiaoming Zhang. A few collectors were there, too—Uli Sigg, Hallam Chow, Larry Warsh, and Greg Liu—along with some museum people, including a MoMA delegation, of which newly minted curator Doryun Chong was a part. With unflagging precision, Kataoka announced the party’s imminent end at the fifteen-, ten-, and five-minute marks, giving just enough time to down an espresso and regroup for another outing on the plaza below, in the shadow (cast by a perfectly calibrated spotlight, twenty stories above) of a giant Louise Bourgeois spider.
The next day the rolling party moved on to a series of interviews in the form of a panel discussion:
Not surprisingly, the conversation often came back to Ai’s recent brush with the law that led to the closure of his much-loved blog in early June. He jovially recounted a tale of calling the Caochangdi village police station to report the secret agents who were staking out his home and studio and who refused to show him their badges. (One of the plainclothes turned out to be the brother of the local patrolman; so much for that plan.) Many speculate that the troubles owed ultimately to the “citizen’s investigation”—staffed by volunteers and mobilized via his blog—that canvassed the Sichuan disaster zone throughout the spring, collecting names and vital statistics on 5100 of the earthquake’s youngest victims. For Ai, the unresolved carnage—60 percent of parents have not been able to reclaim their child’s remains—owes much to shoddy school construction, and thus to Party corruption. Under this pressure, the government released a figure of 5335 dead schoolchildren just before the one-year anniversary of the May 12th quake. Asked point-blank by architect Shigeru Ban why he bothered to pursue this seemingly self-destructive personal campaign, Ai looked around at the hundreds of eyes fixed on him and replied bluntly, “If I don’t use my social privilege to do this, I feel ashamed.”
Eye for an Ai (ArtForum)