Ai weiwei’s largest UK exhibition to date opened yesterday at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock. Excited to have this literally on my doorstep I was desperate to visit as soon as I could.
This is fantastic opportunity to see a range of his work from the whole of his career. From 1983 to a piece created specifically for this exhibition. Given that Ai Weiwei is currently unable to leave China because his passport has been confiscated, this exhibition must have been an enormous undertaking to put together. Using models, detailed drawings and architectural plans the Blenheim Arts Foundation and Ai Weiwie have collaborated to bring together more than 50 pieces of work from over 30 years.
By using ancient vases that he then covers in industrial paints he asks us to consider the value and meaning of an original artwork over something newly created..
The title ‘He Xie” literally translates as “River Crab” but in Chinese this also sounds like “Harmonious” which is used as part of the Chinese Communist Party slogan. In November 2010 the Chinese authorities announced that Ai Weiwei’s new studio in Shanghai would be demolished. Ai Weiwei invited guests via social media to a meal of river crabs as a protest, he was then placed under house arrest and was unable to attend this meal himself.
The Study of Perspective series is a comment about the conflict between the individual and the institutional state power.
The twelve zodiac signs are a traditional Chinese symbol. a series of these were previously stolen from Yuanminguan by the British. These came to symbolize the new China, these are an ironic reaction to this situation.
Bowl of Pearls references both porcelain and rice as staples of Chinese culture but the fact that on closer inspection the bowl is filled with pearls asks us to question the importance between the collective and the individual, does the value of each pearl diminish because there are so many?
Soft Ground was created specifically for this exhibition, this carpet design is based on a strip of dirt road. Replacing the usual red carpet with this creates a juxtaposition between two very different ways of life.
This exhibition is an amazing opportunity and situated amongst the contents of the palace makes this an unusual but really interesting exhibition space. Sadly however you do have to work your way through coach loads of tourists, with only bemused interest in Ai Weiwie, to see each piece . More explanation with each piece at the exhibition would have enabled the majority of viewers to engage more fully with the work on exhibition there.