The Royal Academy’s exhibition “Ai Weiwei” is the only worthwhile major exhibition of politically committed art that Britain has ever seen. The exhibition succeeds because of the immense talent of the artist and because, unlike most politicized artists, he really does have something to protest about. Ai explicitly states that, for him, art and politics are inseparable. It behooves us to approach his work on his own terms; we must talk about politics.

Most of the exhibition is a critique of contemporary China, but in one room there is a tiny work, Remains (2015), that speaks of the even greater horrors of China’s past. It consists of replicas in porcelain of the bones of an unknown intellectual who died of ill-treatment in a labor camp along with thousands of others. Many such bones have recently been unearthed in a clandestine archeological excavation. They are the relics of the...


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