Lisson Gallery has paused plans to mount an Ai Weiwei show after a social media post by the artist about the Israel-Hamas war. News of the show being put on hold was first reported by the Art Newspaper Tuesday.
In a since-deleted tweet, Ai reportedly wrote, “The sense of guilt around the persecution of the Jewish people has been, at times, transferred to offset the Arab world. Financially, culturally, and in terms of media influence, the Jewish community has had a significant presence in the United States. The annual $3bn aid package to Israel has, for decades, been touted as one of the most valuable investments the United States has ever made. This partnership is often described as one of shared destiny.”
The Ai show had been expected to open Wednesday in London. But a Lisson representative said the exhibition would not go on as planned.
“After extensive conversations with Ai Weiwei, following a comment he posted online, we together agreed that now is not the right time to present his new body of work,” a gallery statement reads. “There is no place for debate that can be characterised as anti-Semitic or Islamophobic at a time when all efforts should be on ending the tragic suffering in Israeli and Palestinian territories, as well as in communities internationally. Ai Weiwei is well-known for his support of freedom of expression and for championing the oppressed, and we deeply respect and value our longstanding relationship with him.”
In a statement of his own, Ai said that the show had been “effectively canceled” by the gallery.
“In my opinion,” he wrote, “all kinds of opinions can be expressed, even when they are not correct. Incorrect opinions should be especially encouraged. If free expression is limited to the same kind of opinions, it becomes an imprisonment of expression. Freedom of speech is about different voices, voices different from ours. Simply put, we have never lived in a society with freedom of expression but rather in a society where speech is not cherished; an individual’s speech is not deemed important or acceptable by controllers of speech.”
He later continued, “The cancellation of an exhibition is not important at all because thousands and tens of thousands of exhibitions are still going on. Whether I exist or not is also not important because there would always be someone who wants to look for light and the joy that light brings to life, as people do not like darkness.”
Ai has previously addressed the conflict in works such as the 2017 documentary Human Flow, which featured footage shot in Gaza.
The prolific artist also has shows on view at Galerie Neugerriemschneider in Berlin and the Kunsthal Rotterdam in the Netherlands.