Ai Weiwei Featured in the Season Six Premiere of Art21's "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Series On PBS April 13

New Season Includes On-Camera Interview With Ai Weiwei After His Release From Detention

Marina Abramović, Ai Weiwei, David Altmejd, El Anatsui, assume vivid astro focus, Lynda Benglis, Rackstraw Downes, Glenn Ligon, Robert Mangold, Catherine Opie, Mary Reid Kelley, Sarah Sze, and Tabaimo Featured in Four New Episodes

Season Six Marks Ten Year Anniversary for Peabody Award-winning Documentary Series, 100 Artists Profiled to Date

DOWNLOAD: Press release PDF
WATCH: Trailer for Season 6 of "Art in the Twenty-First Century"

New York, NY — January 4, 2012 — The sixth season of "Art in the Twenty-First Century," the Peabody Award-winning, biennial public television series produced by Art21 that presents exclusive documentary profiles of the most iconic artists working today, premieres nationally on PBS on Friday, April 13 at 9:00 p.m. (ET), Art21 announced today. Among the artists featured in the new season is Ai Weiwei, the celebrated Chinese artist whom Chinese authorities arrested in April last year and later released after 81 days of detention, charging him with a $2 million tax bill. He has been embraced by human rights activists internationally as a symbol of the struggles in China regarding freedom of expression.

Ai's detention occurred in the middle of Art21's production for his segment, threatening to prevent him from personally appearing in the episode to speak about his work. Art21 was able months later to arrange one of the first on-camera interviews with Ai Weiwei after he was released. Exclusive excerpts of the interview are available online at

"Art21 has always presented contemporary art as a vital means of education, expression and communication," said Susan Sollins, Executive Director of Art21. "That Ai Weiwei's work galvanized human rights activists in China, and worldwide, is a dramatic reminder of the power of artists to engage deeply with the challenges of our times. We are very proud to include him speaking to us from his Beijing studio in this sixth season of "Art in the Twenty-First Century," and equally proud of the participation of all the featured artists in Season Six, each of whom serves as a powerful role model for creative thinking."

In addition to Ai, artists featured in Season Six are Marina Abramović; David Altmejd; El Anatsui; assume vivid astro focus; Lynda Benglis; Rackstraw Downes; Glenn Ligon; Robert Mangold; Catherine Opie; Mary Reid Kelley; Sarah Sze; and Tabaimo.

The premiere episode, "Change," airing April 13, features Ai Weiwei, El Anatsui and Catherine Opie. The artists in this hour bear witness, in their work, to transformation—cultural, material, and aesthetic—and actively engage communities as collaborators and subjects. Opie visits her childhood hometown of Sandusky, Ohio, for a series of photos of Lake Erie taken during different seasons for a permanent installation at the Cleveland Clinic, and photographs shopkeepers in the Los Angeles neighborhood near her current home. In his studio in Nigeria, Anatsui oversees young studio assistants from the local community who work with him to create sculptures made from bottle caps, a found material from discarded liquor bottles that Anatsui began working with for the aesthetic properties of the caps, which also can allude to the role of international commerce in African history.

During his incarceration, Ai Weiwei's assistants, E-Shyh Wong and Inserk Yang come to New York in his place for the unveiling of Ai's public artwork near Central Park "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads." Wong and Yang provide insight into his working processes and their belief that neither they nor we should remain silent about his detention. During his September 2011 interview with Art21, Ai comments on his marble sculpture of a surveillance camera, an object increasingly present in modern life in all societies, 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."

"Boundaries," airing on April 20, features David Altmejd, Tabaimo, assume vivid astro focus, and Lynda Benglis. The artists in this episode synthesize disparate aesthetic traditions, present taboo subject matter, discover innovative uses of media, and explore the shape-shifting potential of the human figure. In his studio in New York City, French Canadian artist Altmejd constructs "The Vessel" and "The Swarm," massive Plexiglass and plaster sculptures that Altmejd describes as "laboratories" within which he can experiment with different materials and ideas, contrasting images of menace with sensual tenderness. Tabaimo, Japan's representative to the 2011 Venice Biennale, draws inspiration from traditional and contemporary Japanese culture as she creates immersive, surreal, and sometimes humorous—or disturbing—video installations. In her video "Public ConVENience" she explores the uncomfortable boundaries—or lack thereof—between public and private space in the Internet age. The artist team assume vivid astro focus—Brazilian-born Eli Sudbrack and Paris-based artist Christophe Hamaide-Pierson—describe their unique process of working together while being separated by an ocean, and how their visually explosive installations originate with an exchange of written ideas that become transformed into energy. A video pioneer and sculptor, Lynda Benglis transcends painting and sculpture by creating solid forms with liquid materials that challenge viewers' perceptions of movement and gravity.

"History," airing April 27, features Glenn Ligon, Mary Reid Kelley, and Marina Abramović. History is a theme woven throughout the work of these artists, who mine personal and collective narratives and play with historical events to explore and expose commonly held assumptions about historic "truth", and reveal connections between past events and the lived present. A retrospective of Ligon's work at the Whitney Museum provides a backdrop for his personal history growing up in New York, as well as for the disparate influences that contribute to his mature work—from DeKooning, to children's coloring books of the 1970's, to classics of American literature by writers such as Gertrude Stein or Zora Neale Hurston. Mary Reid Kelley invites family members to perform with her in elaborate costumes and punning verse to create her new video "The Syphilis of Sisyphus," based upon her witty, feminist interpretation of aspects of the French Enlightenment. Abramović, an artist who draws upon her upbringing in Communist Yugoslavia and offers insights into her artistic vision via her personal manifesto, appears in a new video piece created in collaboration with video artist Charles Atlas. A Consulting Director for Art21, Atlas will be featured in the 2012 Whitney Biennial. It is the first time in Art21's history that the artist profile itself is an original work of art.

"Balance," airing May 4, features Rackstraw Downes, Robert Mangold and Sarah Sze. Through sculpture, paintings, and installations, the artists in this hour grapple with equilibrium and disequilibrium as they create highly structured works that challenge conventional notions of perception and representation. Having painted in small-town Maine and downtown Manhattan, British-born Downes travels through rural Texas in search of new landscapes to inspire his panoramic paintings which explore the quandaries of representing the three dimensional world in two dimensions. Mangold, from his country studio in upstate New York, translates the most basic of formal elements—shape, line, and color—into paintings, prints, and drawings whose simplicity of form expresses complex ideas. On a much larger scale, Mangold creates a permanent installation of tall, colored glass panels at the federal courthouse in Buffalo, NY. Sze builds her installations and intricate sculptures from the minutiae of everyday life, imbuing mundane materials, marks, and processes with surprising significance. In New York City's High Line park, she strikes a balance between form and function as she creates a sculpture as post-modern bird habitat as well as a study of architectural perspective and space.

Season Six marks the tenth anniversary of "Art in the Twenty-First Century" on PBS. Over the past decade, the series has profiled a diverse group of 100 internationally recognized artists, including Robert Adams, John Baldessari, Matthew Barney, Cai Guo-Qiang, Jenny Holzer, William Kentridge, Jeff Koons, Maya Lin, Gabriel Orozco, Cindy Sherman, Richard Serra, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Nancy Spero, and Kara Walker, and with unique program introductions by Laurie Anderson, Merce Cunningham, David Alan Grier, Barbara Kruger, Steve Martin, William Wegman, and others.

"Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season Six was produced for PBS by the non-profit contemporary art organization Art21, Inc. Executive Producer and Curator: Susan Sollins; Series Producer: Eve Moros Ortega; Consulting Directors: Charles Atlas ("Change," "History") and Catherine Tatge ("Balance," "Boundaries"); Editors: Lizzie Donahue ("Change," "History") and Mark Sutton ("Balance," "Boundaries").

Major Underwriting for Season Six of "Art in the Twenty-First Century" was provided by: the National Endowment for the Arts, Agnes Gund, Bloomberg, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Broad Art Foundation, the Japan Foundation, and Toby Devan Lewis. Additional funding was provided by the Art21 Producers Circle and the Art21 Film Fund.


In conjunction with Season Six of the series, Art21 is launching "Access '12" in collaboration with partners such as the YMCA, The National Guild for Community Arts Education, and the Arts Business Council. Art21's "Access" is an international community engagement initiative that partners with local organizations—including museums, schools, libraries, community centers, and non-profit organizations— to present preview screenings of each new season of "Art in the Twenty-First Century" and public discussions about contemporary art. To date, Art21's Access has reached over 450 venues in urban, rural, and suburban areas, in all 50 states and 25 countries around the world. "Access '12" Season Six events premiere in Spring 2012. More information about Access is available at


Art21 was founded as a non-profit art organization to provide access to contemporary art and artists to broad-based audiences by documenting the artists of our time for broadcast television and the Internet, providing companion educational materials, and teaching educators. In the past decade, Art21 has used the power of digital media to introduce millions of people of all ages worldwide to contemporary art and artists, creating a new paradigm for teaching and learning about the creative process. To date over 200,000 educators have worked with Art21's materials. In addition, the Art21 Educators Institute provides in depth fellowships to a select group of teachers nationwide, who spend an intensive summer week in New York City followed by a year of distance-based professional development with Art21 to learn how to integrate Art21 contemporary art resources into their teaching practice. Beyond the television series, Art21 produces "New York Close Up," an online documentary series that explores the lives of young artists living in New York City. All of Art21's materials, including full episodes of past seasons and exclusive Web videos of the featured artists are made available for free online at


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