Ai Weiwei Joins Hollywood’s United Talent Agency

Is he selling out?

Ai Weiwei. Photo Matej Divizna/Getty Images.

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has signed a contract with the Fine Arts division of Hollywood’s United Talent Agency (UTA). The agency also represents superstars such as Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.

The Fine Arts division of UTA was founded last year and is headed by Los Angeles lawyer Joshua Roth. The agency doesn’t seek to replace galleries in terms of selling art, but to manage the non-art related aspects of the careers of their represented artists, such as helping them find financing, sign corporate sponsorships, and get involved in the movie business.

Indeed, it seems the Ai will benefit most from the latter. The artist is currently filming a documentary about the European refugee crisis called The Human Flow, which will be released next year. According to Page Six, the artist is keen on using UTA’s expertise and know-how in the movie business.

Ai Weiwei and a film crew in the West Bank, Monday, May 9. Courtesy of Einat Fishbain via Facebook.

Ai Weiwei and a film crew in the West Bank, Monday, May 9. Courtesy of Einat Fishbain via Facebook.

The showbiz site reported that the talent agency is in the process of using its Hollywood connections to set up distribution for Ai’s film. UTA already facilitated the distribution and promotion of a documentary about Maurizio Cattelan, by filmmaker Maura Axelrod.

According to Roth, artists are “vital to a larger community,” adding that their careers are “so much bigger than showing in the rarefied world of the gallery.”

Last year, Roth announced that UTA has the ambition to work with “the best names in the industry” and, with Ai Weiwei, he has certainly succeeded in landing a major client.

Still, the concept of artists working with talent agencies sits uneasily with the art world, especially gallerists. Marc Glimcher of PACE gallery told the Wall Street Journal in February 2015 that there’s a risk of artists selling out. “Do too much, and you’re just not cool anymore,” he said.

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