Cult of the Week: Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei Exhibition.  Guest post by George Maddocks


In the later stages of the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy, the artist’s face appears superimposed over the twitter logo surrounded by handcuffs and cctv cameras. 

It’s a unwitting reminder, not just of how the social network has failed to live up to expectation but also of how we have seen and heard more from Ai Weiwei the man than from his art.

Initially in this exhibition the art fails to do the man justice, that ‘Bed’ and ‘Kippe’ are dense and layered with meaning is apparent – why anyone should be bothered less so. Things pick up with ‘Table and Pillar’ where the juxtaposition of surreal configuration with incredible craftsmanship is captivating, but the pieces are cold and unmoving.

Following this however are ‘Straight’ and ‘Souvenir from Shanghai’, they captivate in the first moment of observation but as we take in the supporting works – the names of the dead, the videos showing the destruction of buildings, and mothers crying over dead children we realise that here form, scale, political intent and delivery have all aligned.

These are heartbreaking endeavours that perfectly express the brutality of the Chinese autocracy and with breathtaking power affirm the necessity of the artist when your country is run by philistines and snivelling cowards.   

Little else matters after these pieces, it is fun to watch Ai Weiwei the punk destroy priceless vases, but in truth there is little to this parable of creation and decay that most artistic graduates hadn’t thought of before and by the time that dildos made of jade are being displayed we are just trying to remember the name of the artist whom did that concept better (it was Keith Coventry>).

There’s time for a final strong moment as Ai Weiwei’s details his own imprisonment at the hand of Chinese regime, but then we are through to the end of exhibition and ‘Bicycle Chandelier’ which was commissioned by the Royal Academy and amounts to little more than an involved invoice.

There’s 30 – 45 minutes of materials here and it’s £16 a ticket. Were it not for ‘Straight’ and Souvenir from Shanghai’ it would be impossible to recommend, with them it becomes entirely essential.  



One thought on “Cult of the Week: Ai Weiwei

  1. The art, as the exhibition, only work in context, some pieces are breathtaking, some are curious furniture puzzles, as the traditional wooden blocks, although “Grapes: is one of my favourites. I’m a bit unsure about the smashing of antique vases to store them in sand jars or painting them over with bright colours. I get what the artist wants to express, but still makes me shriver. Yes, quite the punk. However, my favourite story is the one about the crabs, now represented in ceramic, and the party organised to eat the real crabs in the eve to the destruction of his studio by government officials, which he was forbidden to attend and put under house arrest. I imagine said government officials had all intention of cancelling the party and arresting anyone still intending to go. But like in all facebook/twitter parties, 800 followers turned up, so the party went ahead and the crabs consumed.


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