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Ai Weiwei Arrest Prompts Germany to Summon Chinese Ambassador

Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei. The installation "The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds" is on view at Tate Modern, London through May 2. Source: Tate Britain via Bloomberg

April 6 (Bloomberg) -- German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle summoned Chinese ambassador Wu Hongbo to discuss the detention of Ai Weiwei, an artist who has close links with Germany and planned to open a studio in the capital.

Earlier today, China attacked western governments, media and human-rights groups for criticizing the detention, saying in a commentary in the state-sanctioned Global Times website that the artist “will pay a price for his special choice.”

“We are very worried about the continuing detention of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei,” Westerwelle, who is also vice chancellor, said today in a statement on the Foreign Ministry’s website. The ambassador was called in “to ensure that our clear and unambiguous message reaches the Chinese government.”

The New York Times and Associated Press reported that Ai was taken into custody on April 3 as he tried to board a Hong Kong-bound plane in Beijing. Yesterday, the European Union and U.S. State Department voiced concern about Ai’s disappearance.

Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung on April 4 published what it said was Ai’s last interview before his arrest. He said the Chinese authorities had destroyed his new studio in Shanghai and prevented a planned exhibition in Beijing.

“Recently they have been putting more and more people in jail, just because they write something on Twitter or on a blog,” he told the newspaper.

While Ai collaborated on the design of the Olympic Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, working with the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, he has never been allowed to exhibit in China.

His work has been displayed many times in the West, including a carpet of 100 million hand-painted, porcelain sunflower seeds at the Tate Modern in London last year.

Earthquake Protest

In October 2009, Munich’s Haus der Kunst showed “So Sorry,” an exhibition that included an installation called “Remembering,” created specially for the façade of the museum. It consisted of 9,000 backpacks to commemorate the schoolchildren who died in the Sichuan earthquake. The artist traced and published the names of the dead schoolchildren.

At that time, he was recovering from a brain hemorrhage that he said was caused by a beating from Chinese police. He was asked why he continues to challenge the regime.

“We have to give our opinion, we have to say something, or we are a part of it,” he said then. “As an artist I am forced to say something.”

To contact the reporters on the story: Catherine Hickley at chickley@bloomberg.net; Patrick Donahue at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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