I went to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the AGO this weekend and came away with a new perspective and some re-enforced old perspectives.
You may remember I covered the 1001 Chairs artist protest in Toronto a bit when he was detained by Chinese authorities for being right about the Chinese authorities being typical authoritarian dicks.
I’ve become even more aware of his work since – count me in as a fan. However, I was not a fan of how this exhibit was put together by the AGO.
As my friend remarked, it looked like some sort of “sampler pack” and left us slightly … unsatisfied. They seem to have taken a bit of as many different series of his work as they could and crammed it into as few rooms as they could. If any art deserves lots of white cube space, it’s his work. Weiwei often works on an industrial scale and the AGO reduced his art series to a sort of token participation.
He is one of the giants of our age and will be a central figure of contemporary art history. If the AGO was ever going to clear as much as possible for an artist, then this was it – but they blew it. They did however have $25 dollar tickets for two hours of viewing, so that part of their machinery is well oiled. Oh, and the Ai Weiwei gift shop in the middle of the exhibit took up probably at least 15% of the total space…really?
One cannot help but think if his passport was not currently revoked, then he would of been able to be here to ensure they curated the work better than this. Then I kinda of realized that for me and many a retrospective at the AGO would be the height of professional achievement, but internationally maybe it’s more a provincial gallery.
My pique aside, I was sincerely moved – almost to tears at one point – by his work to acknowledge child victims of the 2008 earthquake in the Sichuan province. The underlying political and social critique of labour, economy + government ambition that feeds into corruption in the construction industry strikes a cord that transcends borders. Montreal is dealing with a corruption probe and there has long been the stink of such practices where I live as well. And probably across Canada.
What really moved me was the rebar that he collected from the disaster scene and then painstakingly straightened. Holy fuck. The poetry of this is reverberated in my brain pan and my eyes started to mist up. I’ve seen a lot of art in my time and I’m a bit jaded and desensitized at this point but this cut right through all that. The material, the process and the presentation are inseparable from it’s content and concept – and it’s simple. This guy is the real deal.
Another revelation for me occurred at this point: As an activist and artist, I understand that an incredible and obvious amount of labour is a way to communicate a powerful message a government authority. It becomes undeniable and that at the end of the day is perhaps the most powerful tool available to a contemporary artist in this day and age.
I also understand that the media is the art and my posts of my own work online is powerful and significant and valid. For Ai Weiwei’s, his social media presence acts as a herald for his work and bridges his universal themes into real spaces around the world. Again, his process and presentation is inseparable from his concept and contains an resolvable tension both conceptually and formally i.e. his studies in perspective. For me as an artist, this validates my own concepts and practice.
A few more photos of the exhibit are posted below – that the public is allowed to take photos at this exhibit is a rarity for the Art Gallery of Ontario and I think is due to the influence of the artist. He understands the power of media more then most artists and galleries.