November 26, 2022

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Springfield Museums rejoice the artwork and legacy of provocateur Ai Weiwei

5 min read

Smithsonian journal once profiled him with a headline that proposed he could be “China’s most hazardous man.” ArtReview journal declared him the most strong artist in the entire world. Amnesty Worldwide gave him an Ambassador of Conscience Award in 2015.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, now living in Portugal, has been an intercontinental determine for pretty much two many years, at any time due to the fact, beginning in the early 2000s, he assisted layout China’s Olympic stadium, regarded as the Bird’s Nest, in Beijing for the 2008 summer time Video games. But Weiwei afterwards renounced his help for the venture, expressing China experienced applied the Olympics basically as propaganda for the ruling communist occasion.

Because then he’s been jailed by the Chinese federal government, worked to increase consciousness of the plight of refugees in Europe and in other places around the world, and in standard utilized his diversified art, which includes films, to criticize China for its development of shoddy educational institutions, treatment of dissenters, crackdown on free speech, and other issues.

But as a new show at the Springfield Museums demonstrates, Weiwei, born in 1957, has also drawn on regular Chinese components, methods and craftsmanship in fashioning unique perform in a way that fuses “the earlier and the present,” as 1 of his admirers places it.

Ai Weiwei: Tradition and Dissent,” which has just opened at the D’Amour Museum of Wonderful Arts, attributes a assortment of work from three decades of Weiwei’s vocation, all of it drawn from a private American collector. Encompassing sculpture, online video, ceramics and additional, the operate speaks to Weiwei’s engagement with a array of topical problems, together with air pollution: “Oil Spills,” from 2006, is made up of black, rounded “blobs” of porcelain, just one of China’s most venerable artwork products, laid out across the gallery flooring.

The exhibit has been organized in cooperation with Taliesen Thomas, an artwork educator and historian who specializes in contemporary Chinese art. She’s also the founder and director of AW Asia, a New York organization that encourages the area of modern Chinese art via institutional financial loans and acquisitions, curatorial assignments, publications, and educational programs.

Thomas, who lived in China for a couple of several years in the early 2000s, achieved Weiwei in 2008 and has remained in touch with him above the many years. Throughout a recent converse she gave at the D’Amour exhibit, she stated WeiWei “is not just an artist. He is a humanitarian … [and] an uprooted citizen of the entire world who utilizes his art to speak out versus injustice.”

Thomas also spoke of Weiwei’s deft skill to weave jointly Chinese cultural traditions and history with modern themes and ideas. A spotlight of the Springfield show, for occasion, is his LEGO Zodiac portrait series from 2018, in which the artist represents the 12 animals of the historical Chinese zodiac in panels made of the colourful toy bricks.

Weiwei lived in the United States from the early 1980s to about 1993, such as in New York City, wherever he became absorbed in the city’s up to date art scene. “I cherished New York — just about every inch of it,” he once mentioned. In fact, his Zodiac panels recall what exhibit organizers contact the “graphic, saturated display screen prints of Andy Warhol,” the pop art learn of New York in the 1960s.

The LEGO constructions also reference a set of bronze animal heads as soon as displayed at a royal palace in Beijing that ended up stolen by French troops during the Next Opium War of the 1860s some of those people heads popped up at a 2009 auction in France, igniting rates of cultural looting.

“One of the issues which is so intriguing about [Weiwei’s art] is the way it appears to be at international politics and cultural heritage,” said Maggie North, the curator of artwork for the Springfield Museums and a graduate of a master’s application in artwork heritage at the College of Massachusetts Amherst. “But he also helps make artwork that is wholly approachable.”

Sunflower ‘seeds’

Weiwei gives a twofold approach to the artwork on Chinese vases, for instance. The show includes fashionable ceramic vases he meticulously painted in a model dating to the Qing Dynasty of the 17th century. But the clearly show also features more mature stoneware vases the artist uncovered in road income that he then coated with automotive paint — a remark on the air air pollution in many Chinese cities stemming from automobiles, buses and vehicles.

In addition, “Tradition and Dissent” offers a miniature variation of a big set up WeiWei established in 2010 at the Tate Present day museum in London, where above 100 million handmade porcelain sunflower seeds have been displayed, in aspect as a dig at the way that China, throughout the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, depicted previous Communist Get together Chairman Mao Zedong as the sunshine and Chinese citizens as sunflowers.

Taliesin Thomas explained some of the highlights of WeiWei’s existence to put his artwork in standpoint. His father, Ai Qing, was a respected Chinese poet who in the late 1950s, when Weiwei was less then a yr aged, was accused of staying anti-socialist Qing and his family ended up exiled to a labor camp in a remote region in Northwest China. Only in the late 1970s, just after Mao Zedong died, was the family permitted to return to Beijing.

A timeline at the show handles comparable ground about the artist. Weiwei, just after residing in the U.S. for about a decade, returned to China in 1994 when his father was dying. His criticisms of the govt in the 2000s attained him a jail time period in 2011 and later on a amount of years of property arrest (he still left China for fantastic in 2015 soon after his confiscated passport was returned to him).

He condemned Chinese leaders, for occasion, for creating flimsy colleges that collapsed in Sichuan province in a 2008 earthquake, killing hundreds of schoolchildren, and then trying to protect up the loss of life toll. He was severely beaten by police in 2009 — he was attacked in a resort place — when he attempted to testify on behalf of a Chinese author who was also investigating these incidents.

But WeiWei was in a position to use these ordeals, also, for his artwork. The D’Amour show includes his product of a surveillance camera, produced from marble, right after he found out listening gadgets had been planted in his studio. In addition, the clearly show features two sets of handcuffs, a single created from wooden and the other from jade — two components substantially revered in China — that Weiwei built pursuing his arrests.

In fact, Thomas suggests just one of the matters she most admires about Weiwei, apart from his drawing on Chinese background and cultural heritage for his function, is that his artwork is central to his existence. As Weiwei suggests in a quotation that is part of the show, “I really do not have this notion that separates my artwork from my lifetime. They are a single point to me. They are normally one particular.”

“Ai Weiwei: Tradition and Dissent” is on look at at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield by way of Jan. 22, 2022. For a lot more data, check out

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