Ai Weiwei has three muses— China, Warhol and Duchamp— and they all come together in the exhibition Andy Warhol + Ai Weiwei at National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) (Melbourne, December 11, 2015 – April 24, 2016). It will travel to The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, in June 2016. Ducahmp is not actually present, but his influence is key to Warhol as it is to Ai. It is one of this huge exhibition’s many threads, and it is front and center. The exhibition concept is so obvious in one sense that one hesitates to use the term “genius” but that is what the collaboration between the NGV and the Warhol museums have produced in this curtail coup of the year. They describe the exhibition as:
Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei explores the influence of two of the most consequential artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries , focusing on the parallels and intersections between their practices. Surveying the scope of both artists’ careers, the exhibition presents more than 300 works, including major new commissions, immersive installations and a wide representation of painting, sculpture, film, photography, publishing and social media.
Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei have each redefined the identity and role of the artist in society. Parallels also exist between the ways in which both artists have transformed our understanding of studio production and artistic value. Both are also renowned for their engagement with media and communications, and for the cultivation of celebrity and their own personas, in order to speak to social contexts beyond the world of art.
The exhibition is a dialogue between artists from different cultural contexts encompassing ‘a tale of two cities’ – New York and Beijing. Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei reflects the time and place of the artist through the activities of two exemplary figures: one representing twentieth- century modernity and the ‘American century’; the other our twenty-first century moment and what has been postulated [perhaps too hastily] as the ‘Chinese century’ to come.
Two new ceramic works by Ai are of particular interest, vis-a-vis Warhol. The placement of Warhol’s Flowers series alongside a large floor piece by Ai highlights the artists’ different agendas for the same subject.
In late 2013, in response to the confiscation of his passport by Chinese authorities in 2011, Ai tweeted: “Since Nov. 30, 2013, every morning I am putting a bouquet of flowers in the basket of a bicycle outside the front door of the No. 258 Caochangdi studio until I win back the right to travel.” Ai documented the flowers on his website and social media on a daily basis. The project concluded on 23 July 2015 following the return of the artist’s passport a day earlier. Here Ai memorializes the With Flowers project in porcelain, traditionally the most revered of Chinese artistic mediums.
Installation view of the Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, 11 December 2015 – 24 April 2016. Andy Warhol artwork © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Administered by Viscopy, Sydney; Ai Weiwei artwork © Ai Weiwei. Photo: John Gollings
Ceramic flowers first appear in early ceramic wall pieces by Ai in the 1990’s with polychromatic glazing. The works seen here derive from his @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz (San Francisco, Alcatraz Island, September 27, 2014 – April 26, 2015) and relate to his modest bicycle installation outside his Beijing studio. The artist has a way of revisiting everything he makes and presenting it in new contexts.
Blossom is a new installation in the form of a garden bed, comprising thousands of flowers made from fine white porcelain. In response to the Flowers for Freedom movement which grew out of the artist’s With Flowers project, Blossom serves as a memorial to people who live in restricted conditions because of their fight for freedom of speech or human rights. The work was fabricated in collaboration with craftspeople from Jingdezhen, whose predecessors once produced the highest quality porcelain for emperors.
A new assembly of colored vases in duck’s egg blue and white with slivers of Han dynasty terracotta showing through from the ancient vessels, I now realize, hosts Ai the painter. Normally he is a hands-off artist but with these works he enjoys dipping. He works in paint, playing with gravity and then assembling these forms into compositions. In this elegant grouping one senses something of a traditional Chinese landscape brush painting of mist hovering over water, subtle and nuanced.
The placement of the Campbell soup painting alongside first puzzled me and then I realized it was the most intriguing placement in the exhibition. Canning soup in hermetically sealed tins is a means of storing food today whereas the Neolithic urns served a similar purpose for the Han Dynasty housewife in her day.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of cfile.daily
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