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Arts & Culture

MCASD Asked To Return Recently Purchased Work By Ai Weiwei

Two chairs from Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's "Marble Chair" series, currently on view at MCASD.
Two chairs from Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's "Marble Chair" series, currently on view at MCASD.

MCASD is being asked to return a work of art by imprisoned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

The museum has started procedures to purchase two chairs from Ai's series "Marble Chair," (2010) which are currently on view in the museum's downtown location in the exhibit "Prospect 2011." The museum's collector's group voted to purchase "Marble Chair(s)' at a selection dinner on May 11th.

Hugh Davies, Director of MCASD tells Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes:

“The Chinese have contacted us through the shipping company that delivered the chairs and has demanded their return. We’re in a bit of a dilemma trying to work around that. Needless to say, until compelled by the authorities to return the chairs, we have no intention of doing so. The situation is complicated because we don’t want to get Ai in trouble. He’s accused of economic crimes.”

Ai was arrested on April 3rd at a Beijing Airport. He was being held without explanation until Friday, May 20th when the first official report cited his arrest for "economic crimes," including tax evasion, adding that Ai's studio "intentionally destroyed accounting records."

According to a MCASD spokesperson, Ai's "Marble Chair(s)" were shipped to MCASD under a standard contract known as "a temporary export license with an option to purchase." The license expires in September, 2011. When the funds were secured to purchase "Marble Chair(s)," the museum started the standard process for international purchases, which are negotiated through a customs broker.

The process was halted when the shipper of the chairs refused to honor the "option to purchase" portion of the contract, saying the museum must return the chairs when the license expires. MCASD director Hugh Davies said on KPBS Midday Edition that the Chinese shipper was told to deny the option to purchase by the Beijing Bureau of Culture.

Davies told me after the Midday Edition interview that the museum is seeking legal advice about how to proceed. "We want to do everything we can to keep these chairs here at the museum."

Ai Weiwei's continued incarceration has inspired national and international protests. MCASD recently held a sit-in to protest Ai's imprisonment.


Members of MCASD's International Collectors and Contemporary Collectors group visited Ai Weiwei's studio in Beijing in November, 2010 along with museum officials.