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There’s a Riot Going On: W Suffers for Its Art (Issue)

For the arresting (pun intended) cover of their sixth annual “Art Issue,” W employed controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The only problem is that Ai Weiwei had been detained by Chinese authorities in the spring for his criticisms of the government and after being released on June 22nd, he’s been under constant surveillance, making his collaboration with the fashion mag a feat of technology and ingenuity.

W’s EIC Stefano Tonchi and senior editor Diane Solway approached Ai about doing the cover shortly after he was released and the artist seemed game. ““He really, really liked the idea,” said Solway. “We left it open to him to create an original work and then we didn’t hear from him for a little bit, so we thought it wasn’t happening.”

Then suddenly, Ai re-emerged with the idea of referencing photos he took of the 1980s riots in Tompkins Square for a five-photo spread. With photographer Max Vadukul, Ai art directed the shoot via Skype, remotely observing as Sui He was detained and hooded — while giving face the entire time — in an Alexander Wang dress before being confined in Rikers Island.

“For me, the excitement has been, firstly, to have the chance to collaborate with an artist of his stature,” said Vadukul of the shoot, “then to hear him actually give a very strong direction. If anybody ever asks me what’s the most incredible thing you’ve ever done in editorial, I will say this assignment.”

The cover is certainly a departure from W‘s last “Art Issue,” featuring a nude and painted Kim Kardashian and one can bet that Ai Weiwei won’t be crying into his sister’s mannish arms about being able to see a little nip. [NYT]



Written by Lester Brathwaite

I was center square from 1969 to 1978, during which I perfected the art of the zing as well as a crippling cocaine addiction. Bea Arthur was responsible for both. @LesFabian lester dot brathwaite at gmail