Leisure, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 79 by 59 inches, by Zhong Biao
  • Courtesy Zhong Biao and Frey Norris Gallery
  • Leisure, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 79 by 59 inches, by Zhong Biao

While Ai Weiwei specifically pushes the buttons of the Chinese government and finds himself beaten and jailed, Zhong Biao's paintings—which might be slightly critical or ironic but ultimately take a philosophical stance toward contemporary Chinese life—are selling so fast around the world that he can't make enough of them.

On the flip side, he's also put forth the idea of selling inches of his paintings as stocks on the market. And he's drawn controversy: I heard that Zhong Biao—only 11 years younger than Ai (born 1957 and 1968, respectively)—is so commercially successful that certain Seattle curators refused to talk with him publicly. What does his commercial success mean? What is actually in the paintings? And what is a proper context for considering them?

I'll be interviewing the artist Monday at Elliott Bay Book Company. It's going to be interesting. Joining us is Paul Manfredi, associate professor of Chinese at Pacific Lutheran University, who organized the event and invited me to take part.