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Ai Weiwei Most Famous Works for You: Dive into Ai Weiwei Art with Us

02.07.2021
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Ai Weiwei art

One of the world’s most influential people, Chinese artist Weiwei is known as a rebel and superstar in the art world. Exposing the policy of the PRC in his work, Ai Weiwei angered the Communist Party in earnest – the government banned him from leaving the country, destroyed his studio, and established round-the-clock surveillance. He was beaten and detained, but this only confirms that Ai Weiwei is on the right track.

It could not be otherwise: the artist’s father is the dissident poet Ai Qing, who was sent into exile with his family for 17 years during the Cultural Revolution. Childhood Ai Weiwei sculptures spent watching his father clean the village public toilets. He cleaned to a shine: he believed that whatever you do, you need to do it perfectly.

Fearing that his son would repeat his fate, his father did not allow Ai Weiwei to read forbidden books. Therefore, he decided to become not a poet, but an artist.

After the Chinese authorities allowed the Weiwei artist to leave the country, he is everywhere: in London, where he opened a retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts (in 2011 he was awarded the title of Honorary Academician); in Berlin, where he was invited to teach at the University of the Arts; in Helsinki, where his exhibition was held at the Art Museum since mid-September.

Ai Weiwei Art

Ai Weiwei sculptures

In 1983, Ai Weiwei went to New York, knowing exactly that he wanted to be a contemporary artist, but not yet knowing how to become one. He receives an art education, goes to exhibitions, and gets acquainted with conceptualism and pop art. Here he gives up painting and makes the first ready-mades. For example, a violin with a shovel handle is a symbol of the “Cultural Revolution”, during which the country’s intellectual elite was sent to correctional labor. Or a coat with a sewn-on condom – a tribute to the AIDS problem that is super-topical for America in the 80s. In 1993, Ai Weiwei painting returned to China to spend time with his sick father.

After New York, it turned out that there was no artistic life in Beijing. Ai Weiwei had to create it with his own hand. He opens a workshop, makes exhibitions, publishes books on art – of course, underground. In China, the artist develops his own visual language, concise and easy to read, which contributes to his popularity.

After New York, it turned out that there was no artistic life in Beijing. Many are familiar with the comedy troupe, where the hero drops or risks dropping an antique Chinese vase. This vase is read as something very significant, of symbolic value: it is the embodiment of the cultural heritage of humanity. In 1995, Ai Weiwei finger smashes a Han Dynasty vase, an artifact dating back to before Christ. Thus, the artist draws our attention to the fragility of the past and the politics of official China, which does not stand on ceremony with this past.

With the same message, Ai Weiwei meaning takes Duchamp’s readymade invention and creates objects from antiques that ended up in a landfill during the construction of a bright future. With the light hand of Ai Weiwei, the achievements of ancient Chinese civilization come into conflict with modernity. The artist transforms antiques into pop art, painting the name of the cola on vases and making installations from antique chairs and doors. Weiwei also often uses bicycles – a tribute to Duchamp and a symbol of today’s China.

Ai Weiwei Artworks

artists like Ai Weiwei

The first large solo exhibition of Ai Weiwei paintings in Helsinki turned out to be very intelligible. Among its distinguishing features, firstly, the size: only three dozen pieces in two halls, but most of the works are so large that they are bursting with a rather large space of the constructivist building Finnkino, built for tennis courts.

  • For Ai Weiwei, size matters – almost all of his plots are associated with large numbers, the representation of quantity. This post-Warhol approach is justified by the fact that the artist belongs to the largest nation on the planet and clearly feels himself to be a unit of it. The objects used by him in installations belong to the Qing dynasty, which spans three and a half centuries until 1911, and for a European who is little knowledgeable in Chinese history, these are also huge numbers.

The walls of the halls, as at last year’s Berlin exhibition, are covered with IOUs, turned by the artist into wallpaper – Ai Weiwei, accused of tax evasion, managed to collect $2 million thanks to donations from around the world, and with his work, he repays the debt.

  • The second difference of this exhibition is in its material: objects and installations made of wood are precisely oriented towards the Finnish public. The beams and columns of the dismantled temples used by Ai Weiwei are carved from Ceylon ironwood.
  • The third feature is also related to Chinese culture: objects form many shadow projections. Sometimes, as in the work “Map of China”, only they make it possible to see and perceive the form completely.

All these traits come together in Ai Weiwei’s furniture objects. Meubles d’artiste has become a common thing in recent years, many contemporary authors prepare furniture for various artistic purposes. The work “Grapes” shown at the exhibition consists of only 28 common peasant stools. Unlike, say, Doris Salcedo artists like Ai Weiwei, whose mountain of chairs serves as a memorial in memory of those killed or expelled, Ai Weiwei is a story about balance, stability, and instability of the traditional way of life.

Ai Weiwei Ton of Tea (2008)

Chinese artist Weiwei

It is easy to guess that Ai Weiwei is a connoisseur of contemporary art. Returning from the United States to China in the mid-90s, he published three books based on interviews with some of his favorite Western artists, notably Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Jeff Koons. He is also partial to the works of minimalists like Donald Judd and Robert Morris. But Weiwei would not be himself if he chose to use traditional materials like stone, glass, or metal for his minimalist sculpture. His creation is a ton of Chinese pu-erh tea, compressed to the size of one cubic meter and spreading its tart, spicy aroma over a long distance around.

Historically, in the West, tea drinking (especially from Chinese porcelain) has been a kind of status symbol. Puer is still one of the most expensive types of tea. At the same time, in China, it is a very common, everyday drink. And most often it is produced in the form of compressed cubes, so that Weiwei’s sculpture is also a “monument” to an everyday object.

Ai Weiwei, Study of Perspective, Tiananmen Square (1995)

Ai Weiwei paintings

“Exploring Perspective” is a series of photographs of Ai Weiwei that he took for over 20 years (from 1995 to 2017) and which, apparently, have not yet been completed. In each photograph, viewers see, first, the artist’s left hand extended forward, while the middle finger is exposed in an insulting gesture. And only then it becomes clear that with this very finger Ai Weiwei human rights shows various important institutions, landmarks and monuments from all over the world.
So you learned some of the Ai Weiwei most famous works and read the life story of this artist.

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