Ai Weiwei: Provocative Chinese Art

Ana B. Remos

Ai Weiwei’s work is informed by provocation and dissidence.

Ai Weiwei (Beijing, China, 1957), one of the most prolific contemporary Chinese artists, gained worldwide recognition after his collaboration with architects Herzog and de Meuron on the design of the 2008 Olympic in Games in Beijing. He has adopted the Internet and social media as forms of expression to comfront the Chinese government’s zealous control of social networks. After living and studying for a decade in the United States, he returned to China in 1993. His defiance of the political status quo in China has placed him in a position of risk, causing his incarceration for nearly three months in 2011. His work focuses on key concerns about the convergence of art, culture and society and their relationship with the individual.

AI WEIWEI. / Photo: Getty Images.

For the first time an extensive collection of Ai Weiwei‘s work was exhibited in United States at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. The exhibition According to what? featured sculpture, photography, audio, video and installations, and took over the entire gallery of the second floor and additional spaces on the third.

According to What? is an update of the 2009 homonymous exhibition at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum. Its North American tour began at the Hirshhorn in Washington and will travel to four cities in the United States and Canada. It will visit the Indianapolis Art Museum; the Ontario Art Gallery in Toronto; the Miami Art Museum, ending in New York’s Brooklyn Museum in 2014.

Ai Weiwei’s artwork uses simple, minimalist shapes and methods to portrait Chinese cultural traditions. His series Circle of Animals/Heads of the Zodiac, twelve monumental heads of approximately 33 feet in height that represent the signs of the Chinese zodiac, was displayed in the Museum’s courtyard. The series is attracting growing interest from the general public given our newfound obsession with ancient Chinese traditions. It will be shown only in Washington. The Hirshhorn acquired for its collection Light Cube, “a seminal work of the artist and a great acquisition for the Hirshhorn, where it will take over an entire gallery”, in their own words. The piece measures 45 feet on each side and plays with the minimalist shapes produced by artists like Donald Judd in the 60s and 70s. At the same time, Weiwei cites Sergei Eisenstein’s Russian film October (1928), in which a spider represents the instability of a government on the brink of collapse, during the assault on the Winter Palace.

1. Cube Light.
2. Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn and Colored Vases.
3. Grapes.
4. Coca-Cola Vase, Photos of New York, Moon Chest.

Another particularly noteworthy piece in the exhibition, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, a photographic triptych that documents the obliteration of a 2000-year-old vase, represents a break with the venerable past to pave the way for something new, revolutionary, and encourages reflection on traditions, cultural values, and the logistics of their conservation.

Until June 23 2013, a sample of Ai Weiwei´s work will be available to the Spanish public: Resistencia y Tradición (Resistance and Tradition) at the Andalusian Centre of Contemporary Art in Seville. The press coverage seems to indicate that Spain is awaiting the exhibition with great expectation.

But none of the exhibition programs will have the presence of the author: Ai Weiwei is under close surveillance by the Chinese authorities that have confiscated his passport, preventing him to travel outside the country. Ai Weiwei’s art and ideas (expressed through his blog) survive in the face of censorship. He is an artist in danger.


© | 2019