The great $1m Ai Weiwei protest – the week in art

A man in Miami smashed an Ai Weiwei vase thinking it was a fake. Plus mafia murders, spot the sniper and Henri Cartier-Bresson the communist – all in your favourite weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week

The Great War in Portraits
This promises to be one of the most moving cultural commemorations of the first world war that broke out a century ago, a war often imagined in black-and-white pictures of anonymous suffering and horror. On the cover of AJP Taylor's classic though outdated book The First World War, a skeleton in uniform occupies a muddy trench. Who was that skeleton? And who were those soldiers who advance en masse in old battlefield photographs?

The nature of the war led to anonymity in death. It was Europe's first industrialised war, as artillery technology pinned down massive armies. The loss of individuality was part of the anguish for those who faced being blown up or rotting in a crater. As the war poet Wilfred Owen asked: "What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?"

When the war ended, fields were filled with unnamed human remains and monuments to the "unknown warrior". The dehumanising nature of mass conflict is one of the terrifying things the the first world war added to the world.

So this exhibition does something truly valuable. It looks at the people of 1914-18 as individuals, not statistics. It does that through paintings and photographs, modernist art and official portraiture. Here we can meet the first world war's heroes and villains and look into their haunted eyes.
National Portrait Gallery, London WC2H from 27 February until 15 June

Other exhibitions this week

Richard Hawkins: Hijikata Twist
Los Angeles artist and curator Richard Hawkins investigates cross-currents of east and west by exploring the work of Japanese artist Tatsumi Hijikata and its influence on his own work.
Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock, Liverpool L3 from 28 February until 11 May

Ryan Mosley
A talented and promising painter shows his latest gallery of weird and wonderful fantasy figures.
Alison Jacques Gallery, London WT1 until 15 March

Keywords: Art, Culture and Society in 1980s Britain
This exhibition explores the art of the 1980s through the ideas of the cultural theorist Raymond Williams. To paraphrase the 1980s TV hit Soap, "Confused? You will be".
Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock, Liverpool L3 from 28 February until 11 May

Rachel Howard: Northern Echo
The material pleasures of oil paint are the theme of Howard's exhibition that exults in melancholic art.
Blain/Southern, London W1S until 22 March

Masterpiece of the week

Paolo Uccello's The Battle of San Romano.
Paolo Uccello's The Battle of San Romano. Photograph: Corbis Photograph: Corbis

Paolo Uccello – The Battle of San Romano (c 1438-40)
The lost world of medieval chivalry shines forth in this brilliantly experimental painting. As Uccello delights in the new art of perspective, he gives armoured bodies roundness and relishes the colours and heraldry of a battle that looks more like a tournament than an actual fight. This is the old innocent myth of war that ended forever in August 1914.
National Gallery, London WC2N

Image of the week

An installation by Ai Weiwei at the Perez Art Museum in Miami. The pot on the furthest right was lat
An installation by Ai Weiwei at the Perez Art Museum in Miami. The pot on the right was later smashed in an act of protest. Photograph: Daniel Azoulay/EPA Photograph: Daniel Azoulay/Perez Art Museum Miami/EPA

What we learned this week

That the man who smashed an Ai Weiwei vase worth $1m as a protest assumed it was from Home Depot

That the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was a communist

How much time you can spend playing Spot the Sniper

How one photographer managed to shoot a mafia murder

That Obama has had to apologise to an art historian for saying that her subject is not a lucrative career choice

How much of a daredevil Lucinda Grange is for her mile-high photography

Which artist lets their cat do their work for them

The National Gallery has put many artworks on show that it once had to sell off as ugly

And finally...

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Jonathan Jones

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