Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

Ai Weiwei

Yesterday evening I went to a talk at the Royal Academy of Arts, London on the Ai Weiwei exhibition they have there for the next few months. This was a special event for bloggers and instagrammers, as opposed to more traditional media. The talk, given by one of the Royal Academy’s art historians, and delivered without notes, was informative and insightful. We then had access to the exhibition which is open late on a Friday evening. The exhibition is a powerful selection from Ai Weiwei’s work, which ranges from the large to the enormous. I was particularly struck by the room taken over by several tonnes of straightened steel rods commemorating the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, entitled Straight; the large-sculpture made from remnants of his destroyed Shanghai studio; and the porcelain cameras surveilling a porcelain field of grass, within which was a child’s pushchair. The surveillance of Ai Weiwei and his family. There is also a dramatic representation of his time in captivity in 2011, with the guards standing right next to him as he slept, showered, ate and used the toilet.

The word for ‘harmonious’ – much used by the Beijing regime, and now a byword for censorship – is a homonym of ‘river-crab’, so another porcelain project was thousands of crabs in a great mound, but with a few escaping. I’m often lost with appreciating contemporary art, and others have captured why this is such an important show far better than I can, but this was a powerful and moving exhibition. Several of the pieces can be seen in the RA’s online gallery here, but these only give a limited sense of what they are like in situ. The scale of the exhibits somehow managed to overcome the crowds that filled the vast galleries of the Royal Academy. Well worth seeing if you can get to London…

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