Chinese artist who lied about stealing underwear for artwork placed under police watch

Published (HKT): 2021.05.02 06:52

An artist in mainland China who fabricated a story about creating an artwork using stolen women’s underwear has been placed under criminal coercive measures, as the police continue to investigate the case.

Zhang Mingxin entered the Signature Art Prize China with an artwork titled “197” that was shortlisted to compete for the top prize, but was swiftly removed after organizers received a complaint from an audience member.

In his artist statement, Zhang said “197” was made with 197 pieces of underwear that he “stole” between 2018 and 2020. A 47-second long video showing how he “stole” the underwear was attached to the statement.

An audience member surnamed Shen complained to the art prize’s organizing committee on April 26, and demanded organizers to remove Zhang’s work. She also exposed the case online, saying that she has also reported the case to the police in Beijing.

Artcloud, organizers of the art prize that originated from the U.K., removed Zhang’s work from the shortlist. It said on its official Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, that while it respects freedom of expression in contemporary art creation and artists’ creative intent, it should also respect the law. The artwork had received 8,452 likes as of April 29, the fourth most popular artwork out of the 170 entries in the competition.

However, a plot twist emerged following the police’s investigation, as it turned out that Zhang did not steal the underwear. The 35-year-old artist bought the underwear and fabricated a story of him stealing intimate clothing items with edited photos and videos, the Beijing police said on April 30.

Zhang, who was born in 1985 in Tengzhou City, Shandong province, and graduated from studying printmaking at the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts in 2008, was not arrested or prosecuted. But he has been placed under coercive measures, which may include summons by force, bail, residence surveillance, detention or arrest while the police continue to investigate the case.

Although Zhang did not actually steal the underwear, the spreading of the fabricated video had caused an adverse impact on society, the police said.

Many netizens commented that the police response to the case was puzzling. “Why was he placed under criminal coercive measures when he did not steal those underwear?” one netizen wrote. “What law did he break by not stealing underwear?” wrote another.

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