New Season of Art in the Twenty-First Century Premieres Tonight on PBS

Ai Weiwei’s “Study of Perspective – Tiananmen” (1995–2003). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Art21 is back with more Art in the Twenty-First Century. The sixth season of the TV series premieres tonight on PBS (check your local listings) with “Change,” an episode featuring documentary profiles of Catherine Opie, El Anatsui, and Ai Weiwei. The latter segment proved particularly challenging to complete, as Chinese authorites arrested Ai midway through filming. He was detained for 81 days (and charged with a $2 million tax bill), and Art21 arranged one of the first on-camera interviews with him after his release. In that conversation, which took place in his Beijing studio, Ai discussed his marble sculpture of a surveillance camera, which, he says is used to “secretly monitor people’s behavior.” “But once it’s marble” he continues, “it’s only being watched. It’s not functioning anymore.” Opie’s camera is always working, and tonight’s episode follows the photographer as she works on projects in Sandusky, Ohio (her childhood hometown) and her current home base of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, Anatsui and his studio assistants transform old bottle caps into amazing sculptures. Here’s a video sneak peek at the season, which will also feature artists such as Marina Abramović, Glenn Ligon, and Sarah Sze.

Photo (top): Ai Weiwei. “Study of Perspective – Tiananmen,” 1995–2003. Black and white print; 90 x 127 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist. © Ai Weiwei.