The Royal Academy Ai Weiwei exhibition in 2015 has been the talk for months. Now that it is finally here, it was obvious for us that we’ll be queuing to get tickets to see it.
Near the entrance of Ai Weiwei’s exhibit you can see a sign saying that the works represent a powerful exploration of Chinese culture, history and material. Together with his relentless campaigning for human rights, it says, this has been “instrumental in establishing him as an artist of international stature”. Yes, that is true that Ai Weiwei is the world’s most famous living artist. But is it all true about him?
It is his first visit in the UK after four years. He was arrested in 2011 after years of being openly critical of the Chinese government. He was released after 81 days, but wasn't allowed to leave the country until earlier this year. So the very least achievement of the Royal Academy and British diplomats is to set forth an array of his art for the first time before.
When you passing into RA patio there are grand trees in Burlington House’s courtyard, reminds about thousand of people donating the Royal Academy Ai Weiwei's campaign on Kickstarter. Than you need to be patient and demonstrate you degree in English art of queueing.After that you can step into Ai Weiwei's world.
Ai’s major inspiration during the time in New York in the 80s was conceptual art of Marcel Duchamp and his ready - made objects. You’ll see few sculptures referencing to Duchamp’s works. Reconfigured Qing dynasty tables, become martial arts fighters deconstructing century - old tradition. Bicycles, significant symbol of Chinese daily life, are suspended in silver clusters to make a huge chandelier.
Ai’s gift is for the humanization of conceptual art. Marcel Duchamp was his god when he was a student in New York in the 1980s – a coat hanger bent into the shape of Duchamp’s profile, the hook forming a question mark, is a deft homage – and the ready-made remains his regular medium. Bicycles, humdrum symbols of Chinese daily life, are suspended in silver clusters to make a soaring chandelier. Qing dynasty tables, reconfigured by master craftsmen, become martial arts fighters: two legs planted on the floor and two against the wall as if straining against the pressure of tradition.
Nearby ready - mades there are destroyed. Built from ancient carved - wood pieces from old houses, demolished temples, furniture are exemplification of metaphorical catafalque
Bricked-up temple, wreckage of Ai’s studio near Shanghai, demolished by the Chinese government filmed by the artist. Everywhere you can see not only art but the sorrow and struggle encompassed in Ai’s personal story.
The main hall is filled with an exhibit called Straight, made up of a spread of hundreds of metal bars retrieved from the rubble of schools as a commemoration of the 5,000 children who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Ai documented and name victims in his blog finally shut down. In consequence Ai spent unjustified 81 days in prison. He captured that time in six huge diorama boxes in the final gallery.
Moreover, what you can find there is pop art commenting nowadays consumption style of living (and thinking). Chinese 2000-year-old bowl with inscribed Coca-Cola logo – a metaphor of shoddy piece of goods, vases dipped in high-chrome paint. They coax to post a question whether the artifact would now be more or less valuable. But it is Ai’s comment on a rebours - the other side is denudation of pop art as a convenient megaphone for propaganda.
Going through Ai’s words, the activism and the art are one. You can feel yourself the struggle of the artist and a man from first to last. But this exhibition has a broader meaning. It speaks about Chinese living conditions. And despite of a deep local meaning it is mourning and talking about souls of deceased and struggles of still living humans facing communist repressions.
Ambiguity, multi-interpretation, hidden agenda, absurd; Chinese venerable culture versus Chinese culture degradation; repeatable, Confucian work versus repeatable, vacuous work of masses. This is what you will find visiting this remarkable exhibition.
Ai Weiwei runs at the Royal Academy until 13 December