Heads Up: Ai Weiwei

Sunflower seeds to CCTV cameras – it's all eyes on Ai

Holly Williams
Sunday 24 April 2011 00:00
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What are we talking about?

A solo exhibition of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's art works at the Lisson Gallery in London.

Elevator Pitch

Sculpting space and surveillance: all eyes on Ai.

Prime Movers

Ai Weiwei, who as an artist and dissident is considered foremost among his generation. His arrest at the beginning of the month prompted world-wide demonstrations and condemnation of the Chinese government.

The Stars

The video and sculptural works on display, several of which have never been exhibited in the UK.

The Early Buzz

Clarissa Tan's blog on The Spectator website suggests that "While many, especially China's own arts reviewers and writers, have seen political messages in Ai's works, his art cannot really be said to be didactic ... Ai likes to use familiar objects – particularly old-style Chinese furniture – often reshaping them, enlarging them, morphing them into other objects ... His Marble Chair, for instance, which will be featured at the Lisson Gallery, uses a chair to evoke both the marble flooring of some Chinese houses, as well as the marble-tops of Chinese tables."

Insider Knowledge

One of the most chilling pieces will surely be Surveillance Camera: a sculpted copy of a familiar, if in the current context deeply sinister, CCTV camera made out of marble. In the last interview he gave Ai commented that "there are two surveillance cameras at my gate entrance, my phone is tapped".

It's Great That...

The art world has rallied round: Greg Hilty, the Lisson Gallery director, commented that they "strongly condemn any form of artistic suppression. We will continue to support Ai Weiwei and are fully committed to staging his first solo exhibition." Another Ai exhibition, of bronze animal heads at Somerset House, will also go ahead; director Gwyn Miles issued a statement saying, "We believe that more than ever, his work should be seen."

It's a shame that...

Fears for the artist's safety may necessarily overwhelm the response to his work; it would be a pity if the sculptures became merely objects of morbid fascination.

Hit Potential

The artist's controversial Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern will have piqued people's interest in his work, and the news of his detainment has, slightly uncomfortably, increased coverage.

The Details

Ai Weiwei's show is at the Lisson Gallery, 52-54 Bell Street, London NW1, 13 May to 16 July.

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