Ai Weiwei to be honored by Anderson Ranch Arts Center | AspenTimes.com

Ai Weiwei to be honored by Anderson Ranch Arts Center

Anderson Ranch Arts Center will honor the prominent Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei with its International Artist Award this summer, the nonprofit announced today.

Ai will accept the prize at the Ranch's Annual Recognition Dinner on July 19 in Aspen, bringing one of the world's most acclaimed visual artists and most influential political thinkers to the valley. He also will give a free public talk at the Ranch in Snowmass Village on July 18.

"I am honored to be recognized by Anderson Ranch Arts Center for my work," Ai said in the announcement.

Born in Beijing, Ai's work has included sculptural installations, architecture, photographs and video. Last year, he directed the acclaimed documentary "Human Flow," about the international refugee crisis.

He has become one of the most prominent and vocal critics of the Chinese government over the past decade. Since 2011, the Chinese government has cracked down on Ai's dissent and treated him as an enemy of the state — arresting, torturing and jailing him on multiple occasions.

Ai currently lives in Berlin and serves as the Einstein Visiting Professor at the Berlin University of the Arts. His recent public art projects include "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads" in Denver's Civic Center Park and "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors," a work about the migration crisis that installed more than 300 site-specific fence sculptures across New York City.

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"My duty as an artist is to associate myself with freedom of expression, and to spark dialogue around urgent issues facing humanity," Ai said. "We live in a complex and ever-changing society, and my art calls on people to question and engage with that reality, to respond to history as it happens and to demand accountability."

Anderson Ranch executive director Nancy Wilhelms said Ai embodies the ideals and mission of the artists' colony, both in his multi-disciplinary work and his activism.

"We have been working very hard to be a leading platform for dialogue in issues in contemporary art," she said in a phone interview Monday. "He is at the forefront of that dialogue right now. He holds a mirror up to us and deals with the most important issues of our times."

She said bringing Ai Weiwei to the Ranch has been a long-term goal for the nonprofit.

The Ranch also will honor Bunny and Charles Burson with its Service to the Arts Award. The Memphis natives, St. Louis residents and part-time Aspenites are arts advocates who have worked at the highest levels of government.

Bunny Burson directed the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities during the Clinton administration. She is also a former Anderson Ranch board member. Charles Burson was attorney general for Tennessee and served as White House counsel and chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore.

Bunny Burson is also an internationally exhibiting artist whose recent work includes "And Still I Rise," a politically themed multimedia project that opened at Anderson Ranch's Patton-Malott Gallery in December, and "Traces" which exhibited at the Ranch in 2015.

The International Artist Award — previously known as the National Artist Award — has honored luminaries of contemporary art, including Wangechi Mutu, Carrie Mae Weems, Frank Stella, Theaster Gates, Bill Viola and Cindy Sherman.

Past recipients of the Service to the Arts Award include Jan and Ronnie Greenberg, Eleanore and Domenico De Sole, Debra and Dennis Scholl, Jane and Marc Nathanson and Soledad and Robert Hurst.

atravers@aspentimes.com