Ai Weiwei at the Hirshhorn is the Daily Pic by Blake Gopnik

The Daily Pic: Ai Weiwei goes so Chinese, you wonder if there's irony involved.

This 3D map of China, made of wood salvaged from Qing Dynasty temples, is in the new Ai Weiwei survey at the Smithonian’s Hirshhorn Museum. I wrote about the show yesterday, but didn’t have a chance to address one crucial issue: Ai’s relationship to Chinese nationalism. Visiting China, you are struck, sometimes troubled, by sentiments you hear that come close to jingoism. I guess it’s not any worse than some Americans’ flag-waving, but it feels more dangerous coming from a developing authoritarian state possibly poised for some kind of – soft power? – world domination. (Although look at its growing hard-power crisis over those islands off Japan). At any rate, given that almost everything Ai makes has some kind of explicitly Chinese content, I wonder if we should read it all as probing the idea of Sino-superiority – piling on so much Chinese-ness that it can’t quite read straight.

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