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Tag Archives: Royal Academy

Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995

Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995

Ai Weiwei at Royal Academy of Arts is not an alternative universe, nor an immersive world. It is not a solution to the craving for the spiritual that I have noticed in London during my visit this time. (Along with a trend for a sort of irritable cautiousness – but more on that another time.)

The work on display here is work made for museums, that is the scale that we are talking about, made from materials that could have been found in a museum – except they weren’t.

Probably.

I am not even sure that they are old, but then I am not an expert.

Objects that he says were found or repurposed I suspect were mostly fabricated by the one of the several practitioners that he mobilizes to make his pieces. Joiners and furniture makers, marble, glass and jade workers, metal fabricators and ceramicists

So are they possessed with history? Yes. All the work here vibrates with the history and geography of China as much as it is concerned with the present and his current struggles. Struggles with the authorities, I mean. Not, as someone pointed out to me recently, with materials.

These struggles are important. Without these struggles with the authorities, what would remain? Their interventions are integral to his work. They are the lens that he offers us with which to view his output.

The eight hundred partygoers in his doomed architectural commission that turned the work into a ‘happening’ whilst Ai was held in prison overnight. The sculptural storyboard of his incarceration – detailed dioramas of humiliation and interrogation.

His critique of the authorities seems sincere but it is tinged with an impishness.

Where he seems to recede a little, lost behind and within works that are too minimal, too formal, he has written himself back into the story with new video documentaries. His strength, as we know, is in the force of his character, his personality, his sense of humour, his face even. He is most alive on Instagram.

Given that, maybe this venue is not such an ideal location for this artist and these works. The Royal Academy exhibition rooms underscore the seriousness of their contents and there isn’t much room for humour or dialogue. Maybe these things need windows to let the light in. (The exception that proves the rule, of course, is the annual and perennially easy breezy Summer Exhibition.)

Ai Weiwei invites scepticism. Remember the people who questioned at the time whether Ai really was detained by the Chinese authorities? Was it because the whole thing seemed so unreal in this day and age? Or did they wonder whether he was writing the next chapter of his own mythology?

I am not sure that this is really Ai’s work. By which I do not mean that it engages with issues of plagiarism and authorship, I simply think that his primary medium is the media. Or maybe his real work is the merchandise in the shop.

But here, back in the gallery, one of the other visitors earnestly listening to their audio guide mutters: “Just because he is famous. Just because he is famous.” I am not sure exactly what they mean but I feel that Ai has deliberately left some gaps for us to be sceptical about. He wants us to talk about his work, to argue over whether Chinese art is political enough, to question what is real and unreal. And in the silence, after the pot hits the floor, you can hear him laughing.

Remains, 2015

Remains, 2015

Coloured Vases, 2015

Coloured Vases, 2015

Free Speech Puzzle, 2014

Free Speech Puzzle, 2014

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What follows is a very personal list of exhibitions that have caught my eye, coming up in 2015 in Liverpool and beyond. Most but not all of them fall in the first half of the year.

  • Listening

Hayward Curatorial Open Exhibition at Bluecoat, Liverpool

24 Jan – 29 March

Endeavouring to help us distinguish between hearing and the more deliberate activity of listening. Includes the work of Haroon Mirza and Laure Prouvost.

  • History is Now

Hayward Gallery

10 Feb – 26 April

Artists curate sections of the show in response to recent history.

  • Magnificent Obsessions: Artist as Curator

Barbican

12 Feb – 25 May

Objects from the collections of Hanne Darboven, Damien Hirst, Sol le Witte and others.

  • Whitworth Art Gallery re-opening

Cornelia Parker / Thomas Shutte / Cai Guo-Qiang

14 Feb

Opening weekend of events

  • Leonora Carrington / Cathy Wilkes

Tate Liverpool

6 March – 31 May

Concurrent exhibitions of prolific surrealist Carrington and Turner Prize nominated contemporary artist Wilkes.

  • Ahead of the curve: New china from China

Potteries Museum Stoke on Trent

14 March – 31 May

Touring show of contemporary ceramic and glass, developed by the Two Cities Gallery, Shanghai.

  • Venice Biennale

Launches 9 May

56th edition

  • Maya The revelation of an endless time

World Museum Liverpool

June-October

400 objects from museum collections and Mayan sites in Mexico

  • Manchester International Festival

2-19 July

Ballet, theatre, music and secrets of the universe.

  • Ai Weiwei

Royal Academy of Arts

19 September – 13 December

First significant survey of the artist’s work in Britain.