LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Royal Academy has made detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei an honorary member alongside Danish painter Per Kirkeby, the prestigious London art institution said on Wednesday.
The title of Honorary Academician goes to artists not living in Britain, and they do not take part in the governance of the Royal Academy. The 80 full Academicians, who are all practicing artists, vote in up to two new honorary members each year.
The Royal Academy called Ai, detained in China since he was seized at Beijing’s international airport on April 3, “one of the most significant cultural figures of his generation in China and internationally.”
It made no mention of Ai’s detention, which has sparked an international outcry in the art world and beyond. Supporters say he is the victim of a crackdown on dissent, while Chinese authorities have said he was suspected of “economic crimes.”
The 54-year-old artist has a high profile in Britain, especially after his giant commission for the Tate Modern gallery in London called “Sunflower Seeds” in which he covered the floor of the cavernous Turbine Hall with millions of handmade porcelain seed replicas.
The same gallery hosted a retrospective of Kirkeby’s work in 2009 focusing on his painting, although he is known also for his works on paper, small and large scale bronze sculptures, brick structures and architecture.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White