Saturday, 17 August 2013

According to What?

"According to What?" is the header of the Ai Wei Wei show at the Art Gallery of Ontario, opening today.  I was at a members' preview last night and was totally touched.  I love this kind of art - exquisite work where it is required, stunning symbolism, expressing meaningful social, political and personal issues.  But above all, it is very accessible art.  Art that I can understand and appreciate.  My photos don't really do them justice but it's for my friends who are not in Toronto - maybe they'll make a trip.  For those of you who are here, it is definitely worth a visit.

The backpack snake - a memorial to the 380 school children who died in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008.  

Incredible - but these two sculptures are made up of compressed pu'erh tea leaves!  They sit on a bed of loose tea leaves.  They are imaginary tea rooms - traditionally the centre of Chinese culture.

A sculpture of Ai's childhood memories - parallel gym bars that were in every school yard during the Cultural Revolution and the stack of firewood outside his home of exile in Xinjiang.  The sculptures were made from wood salvaged from Qing dynasty temples. 

Another iconic piece - there are many variations of this concept in Ai's work - deconstruction of old furniture (in this case Qing dynasty stools with no nails) and reassembling them in new ways with obvious application to new ideas stemming from the breaking down of our old assumptions.

Old vases dipped in new paint - same idea

Moon Chests - fascinating piece!  A series of wood chests made with rare Huali wood, artfully constructed and aligned so that someone standing at one end can see all the phases of the moon.  Extremely popular - almost impossible to get a picture without a person's head sticking out as you can see! 

Chateau Lafite - supposedly a play on the word feet - this is a sculpture of a pair of Chinese shoes wrapped around a bottle of Chateau Lafite - he does have a sense of humour

The famous crabs - river crabs to be specific - He Xie - an important pun on the two words which in Chinese also sound like "Harmonious" - a satirical take on the Communist slogan.

The iconic antique vase overpainted with the Coca-Cola logo - need we say more

Another memorial to the Sichuan earthquake.  These steel rods were from the scene of the earthquake.  Each bent rod was hammered 200 times to straighten them for this installation.  This piece represents Ai's anger at the government's unwillingness to acknowledge the earthquake victims, their pretense that nothing had happened and carry on business as usual.  At the far end of this sculpture, is the memorial wall made up of the names, date of birth, grade and school record of the 380 children who perished.

A beautiful rosewood sculpture inspired by an antique rosewood box from Ai's father

Divina Proportione - Ai created these sculptures without using nails or screws using a Ming dynasty woodworking technique.  He named it after a Da Vinci drawing of the same forms which he found after he completed the works.

Two highly symbolic pieces representative of China and its long history - the map of China on each end of a long piece of log and on top of a beautifully finished sculpture of mahogany.  

I was not tall enough to get the shape of China!   You have to go and see it for yourself!


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed it - thanks for posting!

  2. I saw the exhibit yesterday too, and thought it was wonderful. In spite of what you say, your photos do do it justice! Peggy

  3. Thank you H and Peggy. It is a wonderful show.