Every year ArtReview publishes a list of the 100 most powerful names in art, in their words, the most successful of the "dancers who’ve spent the past 12 months gyrating around contemporary art’s greasy pole of power." This year, Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei was crowned king, and it didn't take long before someone wanted a recount.
The Chinese government, notably the Foreign Ministry, slammed the victory, writing it off as "purely from a position of political bias." Ai is renowned as an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, using Twitter, his blog and art installations as modes of commentary. He was imprisoned this year from April until June, supposedly for 'economic crimes' including tax evasion, but allegedly for political reasons. Despite his imprisonment, Ai has had exhibitions in the U.S., United Kingdom, Taiwan, Austria and Switzerland. Politics undoubtedly are, as the Foreign Ministry alleged, a major factor in Ai's new accolade, but it is in his capacity as a political force that Ai has shown his influence.
To elaborate on the decision, ArtReview published:
“Ai’s power and influence derive from the fact that his work and his words have become catalysts for international political debates that affect every nation on the planet: freedom of expression, nationalism, economic power, the Internet, the rights of the human being. Most important of all, Weiwei’s activities have allowed artists to move away from the idea that they work within a privileged zone limited by the walls of a gallery or museum. They have reminded his colleagues and the world at large of the fact that freedom of expression is a basic right of any human being.”