The artistically discerning international community remains concerned about the plight of Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, detained by the Chinese authorities when attempting to board a flight to Hong Kong last week. Ai Weiwei is best-known for his work in the Tate's Unilever Series, and currently has a hundred million imitation sunflower seeds, made from porcelain, strewn across the floor of the Tate Modern on London's South Bank.
The Tate are said to be, "dismayed by developments that again threaten Weiwei's right to speak freely as an artist", and the gallery recently illuminated "Release Ai Weiwei" on the side of the building, overlooking the river Thames.
Back inside the gallery, protesters today entered Unilever's 'Sunflower Seeds' exhibit, distributing the names of incarcerated dissidents who have not had the good fortune of being made into household names whose welfare is worth troubling over.
Meanwhile, don't expect to hear much out of the Tate's corporate partners at Unilever on the subject. A 2008 report, entitled "outpacing the market" talks of Unilever's aim for a sustainable 20% growth in China. As far as social problems go, the corporation's research found nothing more profound than the fact that 70% of Chinese require a shampoo to address dandruff concerns, and that Guang Dong province represents China's largest shower gel market.
As for the Tate's other corporate partners, the Swiss bank UBS represents the largest foreign banking presence in China, aiming to double its revenue over the coming years, and BP remains "deeply committed to growing its business in China". None of which interfered with Tate's ability to associate its "iconic brand " with these, and any other corporate sponsors prepared to stump up the necessary cash.
The result is 9% economic growth to bankroll a repressive Chinese state, and corporate responsibility substituted for a logo on a prestigious gallery wall. It already seems to have been accepted that art loses none of its soul through association with big business, and the only surprise is the Tate's sudden discovery of a moral compass, which we can only imagine will quieten down again next time a sponsorship opportunity comes knocking.
Anyway, enough out of me, just as the old saying goes, words speak louder than actions.