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The Gray Lady isn't Just for Men

Bill Powers discusses the interplay between art and politics.

"Ripped from the Headlines" is the title of this week's episode, and as luck would have it, Ai Weiwei and guest judge Adam McEwen are both front page news. Or at least they should be. McEwen got famous writing fake New York Times obits for subjects who aren't dead yet, most notably Kate Moss and Bill Clinton. It's a form of memento mori and a way to conflate time. If you are in New York, please do yourself a favor and check out his remarkable exhibition at Marianne Boesky uptown. When I was there for the opening last week, Joan Didion was touring his show. Wow!

If you have been following current events, you may have heard that Chinese artist activist Ai Weiwei raised $840K last week to fight the "tax bill" China is imposing on him to the amount of $2.4 million. According to, "Ai said that he would not treat the money from supporters as donations, but as loans that he would repay." I aspire to be as gracious as this man. He may be the single most important artist alive today, and good for Young to force the paper of record to install a reminder of his plight in their headquarters. I can't wait to see it in person. Ai Weiwei is a hero to all people who believe in freedom of expression. I know an art historian in Chicago who says that MLK and Gandhi might have been the greatest performance artists of the 20th century. We just didn't have the language to describe what they were doing. Ditto for Ai Weiwei fighting the good fight inside the world's next superpower. I've read most of the art blogs and NY Observer recaps of our show, and I'm saddened but not surprised at the level of snark. I mean, it's your right not to like a sculpture about the foreclosure crisis or the gulf oil spill or political prisoners or gay marriage or chronic unemployment, but have you ever seen someone make a stinking dress or a creamy dessert while trying to address these social issues creatively?! I'm afraid not. So you can attack me for gesticulating too much or trying too hard (guilty) and say whatever you want about China's over-the-top dresses, but it's criminal to me that people can name five Real Housewives in this country and not five living artists. I believe in this Work of Art show 100%, and tonight's episode was the best we've had to date. We are all here in the service of the art -- the artists, the judges, the viewers. Our reward for this service is our opportunity to discuss the role of beauty and activism, war and social responsibility, among a myriad of other topics, in our lives today. Let's celebrate these opportunities.

I still can't believe Jerry Saltz is on Bravo.

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