Gary Hume and The Long Goodbye

“Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
What goes on in that place in the dark?
Well I used to know a girl and I would have
sworn that her name was Veronica”*

Too many people can relate to this.

Like cancer, almost everyone knows someone who’s suffering, or has suffered, from dementia or alzheimer’s disease. Gary Hume does. So do I. I mention it because that might make me, perhaps, not the most impartial viewer of Mr. Hume’s new show, “Mum,” at Matthew Marks Gallery. Mr. Hume’s “Mum,” Jill Henshaw, has dementia. The 14 works on view relate to his Mum, as seen by the Artist as a child, and as an adult. Mr. Hume said in a New York Times interview, “I just wanted to paint a picture of my mum, and I wanted to do it to honor her.”

Knowing the subject before I walked in, the show still blindsided me with it’s understated power. Though there is only 1 portrait of his Mum on display, the other works leaving it to the viewer to connect them with her, the real strength of the show comes in it’s sum effect.

It had me close to tears.

“Three Leaves,” 2016-17, Enamel paint on paper. Falling as part of the cycle of their life. Falling like tears. Or, they could be floating away on a river of rippled paper…Click any photo for full size.

Mr. Hume is part of the “Young British Artists” group that sprang out of the Freeze “Sensation” show in 1988, though he’s not as flamboyant as some of it’s other members who were his classmates, studying for their B.A.’s in Fine Art, at Goldsmiths College, London, at the time. Now 55, his choice of subject has led to Mr. Hume’s work taking something of a radical turn, resulting in his most personal show yet. While Artist’s mothers are certainly not an unusual subject in Art, dementia is, in my experience. In Art, perhaps it’s most been discussed by those wondering if they can “see” Willem de Kooning’s dementia in his work.

“Georgie,”(Mr. Hume’s wife), left, and “Mum on the Couch,” right, both 2017, Enamel paint on aluminum, and a perfect place for a bench.

An initial visit to the show gives the impression that Mr. Hume’s Paintings share the quiet dignity of Ellsworth Kelly’s final Paintings that recently hung on these same walls. They also possibly share a similar technique with Mr. Kelly’s Plant Drawings that hung next door at the same time, both Artists being fond of rendering a plant in outline. (I wrote about both Ellsworth Kelly shows here.) But their apparently simple compositions and minimal palette are deceiving.

Mr. Hume has developed new techniques that he has mastered to the point that he can use them with wonderful subtlety. Raised lines of paint lie on the flat surface, and act like the lines in a Drawing, delineating and detailing shapes. Elsewhere these lines are smudged, possibly with a finger, into the shape of a mouth, or an eye. They are executed in the same color as the shape they appear on, making details hard to see clearly, requiring the viewer to stand close to the work to see them. This remarkable effect adds to the “there/not thereness” of the image. Paintings on paper became crinkled and wavy as the enamel house paint Mr. Hume uses (in colors pre-mixed in a hardware store) dries creating marvelous textures and effects. Other works on aluminum have very flat background surfaces, and reflect light making it even harder to see the detail. Using these techniques, and others, Mr. Hume does a remarkable job of making us feel both presence and absence in the same image. They are, also, a meditation on the nature of memories.

Even standing in front of the bench, the detail is hard to see.

Close-up of “Georgie,” reveals one of the “drawing” techniques Mr. Hume uses to add still nebulous “details” to these works.

The middle room of the show features Paintings of his Mum, and his wife, Georgie, surrounded by Paintings of plants, flowers and gardens, including this one.

Abstraction of another sort. “Grandma Looks at the Garden,” 2017, Enamel paint on aluminum

“Well she used to have a carefree mind of her
own and a delicate look in her eye
These days I’m afraid she’s not even sure if her
name is Veronica”*

The third and final room seemed to be focused on life continuing. It includes a painting of yellow rain against an orange background that struck me as, possibily, a sunshower.

“Rain,” 2017, Enamel paint on paper. A seemingly “simple” idea that in the context of this show takes it entirely elsewhere.

Contrastingly, next to it, is possibly a garden seen at night, where only the outlines of the plants are visible. Together, they emphasize loss, and memory, being something felt day and night, triggered by almost anything, and manifesting themselves in every situation and time.

“No Light,” 2016, Enamel paint on aluminum. Difficult to see clearly, like many memories are…

On an adjacent wall, a bird looks skyward, it’s beak closed, without a song.

“The Diver,” 2016-17, Enamel paint on paper.

And, finally in this room, one of two Paintings of berries, “Ripe,” below, bursting with life. (Whiter to, from here?)

“Ripe,” 2015, Enamel paint on paper. Bursting with so much life, the paper can barely contain it.

Meanwhile, the flowers in the show are mostly muted. After all, flowers are, often, symbols of beauty, and loss. Seen at both weddings and funerals.

“Mourning,” 2016, Enamel paint on aluminum

In her article about these works in the New York Times, Barbara Pollack said that Mr. Hume “recoils at any interpretation that reduces the work to merely being a response to his visits with his mother. He prefers to think about the relationship to subject matter as a process of ‘permissions.’…” The thing about Paintings, or Art, is that once it’s been created and put on public display, every person who sees it will have their own “interpretation” of it. I doubt these (especially my own) line up with the Artist’s very often.

Perhaps nowhere here is this better summed up than in “Blind,” a 2016 Painting in the first room. Pale flowers are shown against a white background. A nut seems to be falling towards the lower right corner. Every time I see it, it speaks of something else, but it, also, speaks to loss/impending loss of a mother, with the seed, the harbinger of new life, symbolizing the offspring…himself.

“Blind,” 2016, Enamel paint on aluminum, seen in the show’s first room.

These “ridges” appear in a number of works (like the other flower Paintings above), and are interesting to contrast with the more often than the “softer technique he uses in “Georgie,””Mum on the Couch,” and “Rain.” I haven’t found out as yet how he creates them, but they are stunning and add much to the mystery, and beauty, of these works. The Artist has been trying to replicate them in his prints.

As I said, I may well not be impartial when looking at these works. Ironically, my Mom’s dementia first became apparent one Thanksgiving day. Ironically, this show happens to be up from November 4 to December 22. I was drawn back to it 3 times Thanksgiving week. Now, stepping back from myself, and thinking about the beauty and the power of “Mum,” and seeing other works that Mr. Hume has created recently in the show’s catalog, it seems to me that Gary Hume has made a breakthrough both stylistically, and in portraiture.

“Mum in Bed,” 2017, Enamel paint on aluminum, not on view in the show, from the show’s catalog.

“Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?”*

Mr. Hume’s work has greatly evolved in the almost 30 years since the “Sensation” show brought him and the YBA’s to wide attention. For years known as the “quiet one” in that group, it’s hard for me not to feel he’s only now hitting his stride. Though I doubt that many will agree with me at the moment, Gary Hume may yet turn out to be the Artist the YBA’s are remembered for. While each work on view is uniquely beautiful on it’s own, it’s as a group where each plays a part in telling a larger story, a story of life, love and impending loss (“the long goodbye,” as it’s called), ironically, in slivers that are almost there…like memories.

Human memories may have a finite lifespan, even under the healthiest of conditions. It’s in translating them to other forms where they have their back chance to live on…indefinitely.

Gary Hume, “Mum,” is my NoteWorthy show for November. 
*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Veronica,” by D.P.A. MacManus (aka Elvis Costello) and Paul McCartney,  from “Spike,” published by Universal Music Publishing Group.

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On The Beatles…and Sgt. Pepper’s 50th

Today, June 18th, is Sir Paul McCartney’s 75th Birthday. Happy Birthday, Sir Paul, and many more!

When it came out 50 years ago, on June 1, 1967, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was nothing less than the biggest tsunami in popular Music since, well…”Meet The Beatles.” A defining moment in modern music, splitting musical time into before, and after, it’s aftershocks have been so all-encompassing, it’s hard to listen to most of what’s come after and not hear some of it’s influence.

Though Traffic, the Beach Boys, The Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (who’s seismic “Are You Experienced?,” the first album I ever bought, was released on May 12, some 19 days before “Sgt. Pepper’s”) were doing wonderously creative things with expanding the boundaries of rock, nothing else sounded anything like it, really. It cut across genres and audiences. No matter what they had listened to before, everyone listened to it when it came out1. When you think about that, it’s downright amazing given how experimental, even avant garde, quite a bit of it was. “Avant garde” and “experimental” is almost always a ticket to popular failure. Producer Sir George Martin was behind some of it- both technically (managing the recording, and facilitating the Beatles’ ideas ), and musically (doing the string and brass arrangements). Drugs, the expansive cultural, spiritual and musical explorations of The Beatles, themselves, were the rest of it. Still, in spite of all the changes going on, personally, and in the music, the whole thing hung together perfectly- from the opening background noises to the final backward voices, ending the unprecedented, all too real/all too surreal “A Day In The Life.”

It was a product of the moment, becoming the soundtrack for the “Summer of Love,” one that, also, took music a big step forward, and showed us the future.

Sir Paul McCartney performing at Yankee Stadium, July 2011, on his original Hofner “Beatle Bass,” one of the most historic musical instruments in the world. He actually remains under-appreciated as a musician, as are some of his projects, like “The Fireman.” Click any image to see it full sized.

The “concept album” had truly arrived (with all due respect to “In the Wee Small Hours,” by Frank Sinatra, 1955, a staple over here at the offices, “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys, released May, 1966, and a few others). As a result, to this day, when you put it on, I think it should be listened to it all the way through.

Now, with the release of the new 50th Anniversary “Deluxe Edition” Box Set, things are getting complicated. So, I need to specify what I mean by “it”- Listen to the 13 songs on the original album all the way through. Which brings me to what I feel is a little bit of a problem. The new “Deluxe Edition” is NOT (I feel) the best way to experience Sgt. Pepper’s for the first time. With all due respect to Giles Martin, who has (partially) remixed Sgt. Pepper’s for the Deluxe Edition, mixing his version from the original 4 track tapes. See footnote 2 for more details on this2 After a listen to the new mix, I prefer to stick with the original mix.

Giles’ Dad, Sir George Martin, was one of the greatest Producers in the history of recorded Music. You could make a very strong case and say he’s The Greatest, but I don’t believe comparing creativity, or creative people. In any event, his mix ain’t broke. Don’t “fix” it. I don’t think the “sonic upgrade” of the new stereo mix is that big to sacrifice something that was an integral part of the finished album, like this part of George Martin’s contribution was3. It was something he created WITH The Beatles. You’re dealing with master tapes that were recorded in 1967. There’s only so much that can be done to “improve them” sonically, and those come with tradeoffs-

Questionably “better” sound quality vs. losing some of the original experience, and, most importantly, the Artist’s intentions.

Sir Paul performs “Something,” on a Ukulele given to him by George Harrison.

Frankly, for those reasons, I prefer to stick with original mixes of just about every album ever made, and as reissues pile up, they get harder to find- you have to know what you’re looking for4. As a producer? I wouldn’t want anyone else messing around with my mix, and I was no Sir George Martin. “Technological advances” are a mixed blessing, bringing good and bad. Just ask anyone who prefers Lp’s to CD’s. (I’m not saying I do.)

Finally, the Deluxe Edition comes with a lot of extras. There are a seemingly infinite number of Beatles’ outtakes that have circulated among fans and traders over the years, and while many of them are fascinating, if you haven’t heard the original album, wait until you have it memorized before listening to them. The “Making of” Doc, included with the Deluxe Edition, sounds fascinating. I’m sure the book is good, too. All in all? It sounds like a supplement to having the original recording. NOT a replacement for it.

“Hey, Sir Paul! What do you think of the new Sgt. Pepper’s Mix?”

In all of this, I have not seen any mention of the involvement of Sir Paul and Ringo (who were directly involved with the original, of course, with due respect to Yoko and the Harrisons) in it. And, I haven’t been able to find out what Sir Paul thinks about the new mix. His website has him only commenting on the passage of time re: “Sgt. Pepper’s” 50th, but I found this comment critical-

“It’s crazy to think that 50 years later we are looking back on this project with such fondness and a little bit of amazement at how four guys, a great producer and his engineers could make such a lasting piece of art.”

I think that tells you all you need to know. He includes Sir George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, as part of the creative team5.

“I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in,
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go.”*

I believe the integrity of all of their work should be respected, and preserved.

But? With the passing of time, there’s no way I’m going to win that fight. There’s too much money aligned on the other side in reissuing records- just beware of anyone who tells you it’s “new & improved.” This, unfortunately, goes on in Art, too. After Artists pass away, increasingly their estates are continuing to issue/reissue their work. I have very mixed feelings about this. I’ll go to Photo shows and see “recent prints” that just aren’t up to the level of the quality of prints made by the Artist during their lifetime. This hurts the Artist’s reputation, in my opinion. In music, we now stand at the precipice of whatever will be done regarding Prince’s unreleased Mt. Everest of material. If you don’t think that’s going to materially impact his legacy, think again. Quick- How many albums did Jimi Hendrix release during his lifetime6? I feel for any new listener to his music faced with the dauntless task of looking through the list of COUNTLESS albums with his name on them, which are STILL being released 47 years after his death, and trying to find them.

The message in all of this? Buyer beware. Luckily? After 50 years? Most people already have “Sgt. Pepper’s.” So? On the 50th Anniversary (month) of it’s release put it on and give it a listen. All the way through. It’s an Album. Remember them?

Many since have tried. There’s still nothing like it.

Finally? When all else has been said…Think about this for one minute…

How HARD is it to connect with even one person who becomes special in your life? I still marvel that The Beatles FOUND each other!

Never in the whole history of Western Music (1200 a.d. to 1900) have two musical Geniuses collaborated before (as far as I know).

J.S. Bach was too busy raising 10 sons (each of whom became a noted, or great, composer), writing, rehearsing AND performing a new cantata each week, performing his regular church duties, and writing the rest of his incomparable music to collaborate with Handel. Mozart and Beethoven? Never happened. Brahms and Schumann? Nope. Brahms and MRS. Clara Schumann…? Romance doesn’t count. This is a 20th Century phenomenon. George & Ira Gershwin…Bernstein & Sondheim…Miles Davis & John Coltrane…Miles & Wayne Shorter…My list may be different than your’s. Here you have John Lennon & Paul McCartney, two of the very greatest songwriters in the history of Music. Alongside them? George Harrison, no slouch (and continually under-rated) himself. Heck…Who WOULDN’T be “under-rated” next to those two? I often wonder what George must have felt (from time to time? often?). On the one hand he had people wanting a “better lead guitarist,” his friend, Eric Clapton, perhaps, to replace him in The Beatles. On the other hand, he was lucky to get 1 or 2 songs on each Beatles album, NO MATTER how good his songs were! (Witness the then unheard of THREE Lp set he released soon after The Beatles split, “All Things Must Pass.” Talk about being “pent up!” “Within You, Without You,” was his song on “Sgt. Pepper’s.”) But? He was the “perfect” guitarist for The Beatles, as Ringo was the “perfect” drummer for them. That the four of them found each other?

It’s miraculous, in my book.

If you don’t think so? Point out to me the LAST time this happened in any of the Arts.

The Beatles were a gift from the Universe.

*- Soundtrack for this is “Fixing A Hole,” by Lennon & McCartney, from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.

On The Fence,#8, The Birds & The Bees-tles” Edition.

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  1. Myself included, and I wasn’t into The Beatles until “Strawberry Fields Forever” was released, on February 13, 1967, as a single, presaging “Sgt. Pepper’s”
  2. Sgt. Pepper’s was recorded on 4 tracks, which is astounding when you think about that today. In 1995, my version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” was recorded on 48 tracks. The Beatles would fill up 3 of the 4 tracks, then mix those down to the open 4th track. Then they’d repeat the process until they had filled all four tracks (I’m simplifying. There was more “bouncing” of tracks to open up other tracks involved.), the resulting tape was then mixed down to a final, stereo two track Master, which is what the records were made from- both in Stereo, and yes, in Mono. Both of those have been reissued, in the “Complete” Stereo and Mono Boxsets, and I prefer them, at the moment, among the recent incarnations of The Beatles albums.
  3. Giles Martin also did a 5.1 mix. You’re on you’re own there, since his dad didn’t do one, as far as I know. I have not heard it as yet.
  4. For example- Try finding the original mixes of Miles Davis’ Columbia albums, some of the greatest and most important music of the century, on CD. It’s hard. Early, now rare, Japanese import CD’s had them. Most likely you have to go back to the Lp’s for them, but make sure they’re vintage.
  5.  They did a Q&A with him about Sgt. Pepper’s BEFORE the Deluxe Edition was announced, here. Also, Pepper’s recording engineer Geoff Emerick said he “hadn’t heard it”, the new mix, in an interview
  6. The answer is 3 studio Lp’s- “Are You Experienced?,””Axis:Bold as Love”, and “Electric Ladyland,” and 3 live albums- the other 2 of which, besides “Band of Gypsys,” I’m not sure how much he had to do with.

Yoko Ono & Linda McCartney- Out Of The Long And Winding Shadows

In NYC there are so many shows going on at any given moment, it’s often possible to find strange, not so strange, and/or enlightening connections among the completely randomly scheduled Art Show bedfellows, and I love exploring them! Recently, there were shows of the Art of two of the Beatles spouses up at the same time- with a show of the work of Linda McCartney, and her and Paul’s daughter, Mary McCartney’s photographs Uptown at the Gagosian Bookstore Gallery, and a double show of 3 new works by Yoko Ono in Chelsea (the same 3 pieces were on view in 2 galleries). To boot, she also took out a full page ad in the Village Voice this past week…about crying.


When I was a kid Asian women, not named Anna May Wong, were seen as quiet, demure, even submissive by most people in the West.

Then along came Yoko Ono on the arm of John Lennon.

“Every man has a woman who loves him
In rain or shine or life or death
If he finds her in this lifetime
He will know when he presses his ear to her breast”*

At first, she seemed quiet, too. She was omnipresent. She appeared to be John’s shadow. But that was mostly because we weren’t familiar with her Art. Most people still aren’t. They took one listen to her music and that was as far as they went.

Art has long been the Beatles “dirty little secret.” People forget, (or would like to), that Paul McCartney paints, John Lennon drew, and had attended the Liverpool College of Art, and both of their famous spouses, among others not famous, are established Artists in their own right. People seemingly didn’t want to know about anything other than the Beatle’s music. Yet, even a casually close look at the Beatles accomplishment shows they were eternally trying to push the envelope creatively. They aspired to “more” than pop music. Just listen to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” back to back. They aspired to be Artists, and they succeeded more than any other “popular music” group in history, though not in everyone’s mind. Their more “chancier” creations, like the film “Magical Mystery Tour,” which was years ahead of it’s time, got mixed, even bad reviews. Many didn’t get George’s interest in Indian music, and on and on. It was almost like people were saying “shut up and play yer guitar,” to quote Frank Zappa.

Yet all the while, these two Beatles women kept at their craft and followed their own creative voices. Think it’s an accident two Beatles married them? Think again.

In the case of Yoko- She received a lot of  denigration, and worse, from a public who have virtually no experience with the kind of Art she makes, on top of the abuse she received for being “the reason” the Beatles broke up (as absurd as that was). It often seemed like John was one of the few who appreciated her creativity during his lifetime,

“Every woman has a man who loves her
Rise or fall of her life and in death
If she finds him in this life time
She will know when she looks into his eyes”*

It’s already 35 years since John tragically left us way too soon. Still, Yoko has not only survived that horrid death, and all the rest I just mentioned, and carried on, continuously, with her art, her music, her messages, and being her indomitable self.

Artists gonna Art, I say. Her stature continues to rise.

I think she’s one of the most courageous Artists, and women, of our time. Sure, having money no doubt helps, but I bet she still would have kept on keeping on and made her own way, as she was doing before she met John. I bet John would agree and that’s part of why there was “John & Yoko” to begin with.

Linda’s work is well known, well respected and rightly so. Along with Annie Liebovitz, she was one of the first important female rock photo-journalists, even before she became Mrs. Paul McCartney. Oh, yeah…She got a fair bit of grief about that, too. Then, he put her in Wings! HA! (Sing it with me now- “Every woman has a man who loves her…”, above.) Some of her most well-known photos are on display, and available for purchase at prices up to 10,000.00. Right along side are her & Paul’s daughter, Mary’s photos, which are entirely unknown to me. If they had taken down all the title cards, removed the iconic shots among Linda’s, and you walked in without knowing which work was by who- Linda’s or Mary’s, you’d never know. That’s how amazingly symbiotic the eyes of the two photographers are. They see as one.



Far Left & Far Right are Iconic Linda’s. Who shot the others?

Linda & Mary & Brian & Keith & Kate & Paul

Linda & Mary & Brian & Keith & Kate & Paul

Walking out, and I say this with nothing but respect, it really felt like Linda had never passed away. That her work continues. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

In Chelsea, Yoko’s 3 works (“Stone Piece,” “Line Piece,” “Mend Piece”), with the overall title “The Riverbed,” are beautifully conceived, and largely left to the viewing public to realize. Yes, that’s right- you get to help Yoko realize her Artwork. How cool is that? Her notes say-“RIVERBED is over the river in-between life and death…” I’ve reproduced the rest-




Line Piece.





Entrance to “Mend Piece,” with work table and display shelves inside.


Mend a Cup. Heal the World with your love.


It reads- “Someone, somewhere in the world loves you”…”It’s me.”


Parts of the Earth, Mended, with Love.

I watched people lose themselves interacting and creating with the materials provided- string, nails, hammers, scissors and rock in one room at each show, and a pile of broken china, glue, tape, markers on a table with chairs in another room at each location. The participants were of all ages, sexes and races. The shelves for “Mend Piece” in both galleries were stocked full of “reconstructions.” The string “webs” of “Line Piece” were so intricate that they required careful stooping and straddling to navigate the rooms. I came away feeling that Yoko is leaving a legacy among the young, like the Beatles did. This is in addition to the legacy she is creating as an Artist, a female Artist at that, and as a person.

Also, in these shows, she’s breaking down the walls of “What is Art?” and letting everyone in. Art lies in the idea. The Artist is the person realizing it. As such we are all capable of being Artists. And? Art can heal- yourself, even the world!

How beautiful is that?

John Lennon is STILL proud of her. Hopefully now, finally, the rest of us know how right he was about her.

Since she signs everything “I love you,” which is always nice to hear, I’ll reciprocate, since she probably likes hearing it, too-

I love you, too, Yoko.

There…a little piece of the Earth mended. With Love…and Art. Imagine…

*-Soundtrack for this post is “Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him” by Yoko Ono, from “Double Fantasy” and published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing Co.

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Hold The Flowers- Ai Weiwei Gets His Passport Back…FINALLY! Then Uses It.

Each day for the past 600+ days flowers have been left in the basket of the bicycle outside of No. 258 Coachangdi, Beijing, China, the address of Ai Weiwei’s studio, by his fans and followers in solidarity with the great Chinese Artist & Activist until his passport, which was confiscated during his April 3, 2011 arrest on charges of “tax evasion,” is returned to him. Ai spent the next 81 days in prison (more on that coming up) until finally being released on bail on June 22, 2011, after he agreed not to leave Beijing for a year. Year up, he continued to be forbidden to travel to other countries…until…

Late last month Ai posted a pic on Instagram announcing the return of his passport, a great shot too long in coming, it can be seen, along with more details here.

At last…He doesn’t look particularly happy, though he looks well. I’d say he looks hopeful. Ai then quickly took a trip to Germany to rejoin his family, sparking rumors of his accepting a university post there.

Still, it’s Wonderful news that’s also a sad reminder that during the past 4(!) years Ai missed the many shows of his work held outside of China, the 2014 Brooklyn Museum Show “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” among them. Would what we experienced have been changed, modified or altered simply by his larger than life presence? We’ll never know, and we are all undoubtedly poorer for the lack of him. For me, though, it was still a rare chance to explore the many sides of Ai’s boundless creative spirit. Here are some pics I took of the show, in case you, like Ai, missed it.

“Stacked” 2014. The card refers to the minimalist approach to the bike- no handlebars or seat, suggests “that in China the individual is often undervalued and seen only as part of the whole.”

“Map of China”

I’ve been to bars that look like this at 3:45am. “Grapes,” Qing Dynasty Stools

It featured a selection of his work from the past 20 years, above, and a central gallery that included 2 monumental works, the 73 ton “Straight,” and “Sichuan Name List” Ai created in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake which killed over 69,000 and left another 18,000 missing 1.

Ai’s “Straight” (on the floor) and “Sichuan Name List” (on the wall, left) are works about the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake that may have killed 90,000.

For me, the “showstopper” was the 2013 work “S.A.C.R.E.D.” (S upper, A accusers, C leaning, R ritual, E entropy, and D oubt) which consists of six 2 and a half ton iron boxes, each one shoulder height and measuring 5 feet wide and 12 feet long, one for each of the title’s letters. As you approach one, you notice a door near one exterior corner, then you notice slits in the iron that allow a glimpse of what’s inside. Yes, each box contains a diorama of a scene from his life during his 81 day incarceration after that 2011 arrest, while he was awaiting trial(!). Inside, we see TWO guards watching him sleep in one, eat in another, shower in another, and do his business in yet another(!)(not pictured)…It’s a chilling, unforgettable and shocking experience that gives the rest of us a little insight into the risks Ai takes every day, with every new work, and in just “being Ai.” It also reminds that many, many people, some of them artists, take incalculable risks every day in the name of freedom, and artistic freedom, or in just living their lives. Many admire athletes, and other so-called “role models.” I admire Ai Weiwei, and those like him.

Thinking about it on the F Train home, I couldn’t recall a more powerful recent work on this topic. My mind seeking an art historical reference, of which there are, unfortunately, too many, kept turning to Goya. First, for the absurdity depicted in his Caprichos, and then of the power and oppression of the state shown in his “The Third of May.” In the end, the lesson may be that, in spite of hundreds of millions of deaths in the intervening almost exactly 200 years, tragically, not much has changed in the world .

For more infö on and other’s pics of  “S.A.C.R.E.D” go here and here. An interview with Ai about it is here.

I consider Ai a New Yorker since he lived here for 10 years. Here’s hoping he comes and visits us, again, soon…and often!


For Ai’s story, I highly recommend the 2012 documentary “Never Sorry,” which has appeared on PBS.

*-Soundtrack for this post- “Freedom” by Paul McCartney published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

“I will fight, for the right
To live in freedom.”*

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