‘Western Museums Expanding Into China Is a Joke’: Ai Weiwei Decries Cultural Institutions for Their

It is so interesting to read about how the International Council of Museums are split on what a museum does and should champion [1 & 2] and Ai Weiwei’s remark of Western Institutions’ (Tate, Victoria & Albert Museum, British Museum and the Center Pompidou in Paris) rush into China as a “joke” and a “charade”, knowing that there is heavy censorship [3].

Sure, we are certainly at the cusp of massive changes in the museum world, and hence the debate. It may well be an argument between the old world and the new world and their respective mandates.

I can’t help but also think: is it just a disagreement about ‘lack of consultation and respect for procedures as well as the widely criticised wording’? How will the adoption of values regarding cultural democracy affect the activities and plans of those members with growth plans in China? What are their positions on the new definition? Are they agreeing or disagreeing?

Here are some excerpts from the 3 articles:

[3] “‘Partnering with Chinese museums while being involved with issues at the forefront of contemporary culture is laughable,’ Ai said... ‘China is an authoritarian state under heavy censorship. By choosing to expand into China, you have chosen to obey these dictates; you are willing to be censored....’”

[1] “For almost 50 years, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has defined the museum as ‘a nonprofit institution’ that ‘acquires, conserves, researches, communicates, and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study, and enjoyment.’

But some people, including the Danish curator Jette Sandahl, object saying ‘it does not speak the language of the 21st century’ and that it does not reply to current demands of ‘cultural democracy’”.

[1] “A lengthy new statement was supposed to be adopted in Japan last week changing the definition to ‘democratising, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the past and the future’”

[2] “France led the revolt against this “ideological text”, which it says was launched ‘without consultation of the national committees’ ... France won the support of 88 out of the 125 national and regional delegations...

The proposed new definition was strongly supported by the US, Australia and Denmark. However, Europe, Italy, Spain, Germany, Canada, Iran, Israel, Brazil, Peru and Argentina saw in it a fuzzy collection of political correctness and trendy posturing that would have little legal value.”

An interesting development to watch.


[2] https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/icom-kyoto

[3] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/ai-weiwei-hong-kong-protests-1639111

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