Ai Weiwei’s biggest solo exhibition worldwide is shown from 3 April to 13 July 2014 in Berlin, three years after his arrest at Beijing airport. He still hasn’t received an official explanation for why he was held in solitary confinement for 81 days or why he was suddenly set free. His passport has not been returned, which prevents him from travelling abroad. Therefore the artist was unable to attend the opening.
Stools features over 6000 wooden stools from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties and the republican period, gathered from villages across northern China. They are basic staple in many Chinese households. The work forms a surface by connecting individual stools, covering the tile floor of the atrium of the Martin-Gropius-Bau.
During Ai Weiwei’s 81-day detention, he was held in an isolated cell at a secret military police base in the suburbs of Beijing. The cell was 7.2 by 3.6 meters, and all objects inside were wrapped in white foam. The lights were on 24 hours a day. There were three cameras in the cell. 81 is an exact replica of the prison cell and the conditions inside.
In recent years, the Chinese government has used the term hexie or “harmonious” to describe an ideal contemporary Chinese society. Internet activists quickly latched onto the term as a threat to plurality and freedom of speech. The river crab is a homophonic pun on the word he xie. In 2010, in order to protest the Shanghai government in unreasonably demolishing his newly-built studio, Ai Weiwei held a river crab feast for online followers who went to the site to voice their support. He then was placed under house arrest for the first time.
On May 12, 2008, an earthquake of 8.0-magnitude hit Wenchuan County in Sichuan Province, China, killing nearly 70,000 people. Over 5,000 students in primary and secondary schools perished during the earthquake, but their names were never released. Ai Weiwei launched “Citizens’ Imvestigation” to discover the students’ names and details about their schools and family backgrounds. 5,200 names were confirmed during the investigation. The video installation is a tribute to the innocent lives lost.
Ai covered eitht Neolithic vases from the Colored Vases series in metallic automotive paint, solid colors from the standard palette used on Mercedes-Benz and BMW automobiles. The addition of surface paint both disrupts and preserves the original, and challenges us to consider how we determine the real significance of history and civilization.
Ai Weiwei has reinterpreted the twelve bronze animal heads representing the chinese zodiac that once stood in the gardens of the Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat in Beijing. In 1860, the palace was ransacked by French and British troops and the statues were looted together with many other items. Only seven of the twelve figures have been traced today.
The profusion of manufacturing and consumption have created the now infamous smog across China, with air quality levels regularly exceeding acceptable standards for health and survival. Carved from a single block of marble, Mask depicts a personal airfiltering mask atop a tombstone.
The first Study of Perspective was shot in Tiananmen Square, Beijing in 1995. The series contains a simple gesture that speaks volumes about the artist’s perspective and stance on authority. These photos ask viewers to challenge their own unquestioned deference towards any establishment, be it governments, institutions, or even nature or culture.