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The Worlds of Ai Weiwei

17 February 2009

To me, personally, there is a lot of Pablo Picasso in Ai Weiwei. True to his enigmatic persona he claims otherwise, citing instead Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol – Duchamp for his iconoclasm and Warhol because the measure of the man is the totality of his diverse output.

Ai’s iconoclasms are legendary. Take his dropping of a 2,000-year-old Han Dynasty urn. The act was photographed, of course – why do it if there is no one there to record it? Smashed, it acquires new artistic significance and, besides, it’s a break with the past. Instead of writing “R. Mutt” on a urinal, as Duchamp did, Ai paints the Coca-Cola logo onto yet another priceless Han Dynasty urn. Ai’s prodigious output runs the gamut from shock art, sculpture, film, editing, writing, photography, furniture making to architecture on the grandest of scales, as in the Bird’s Nest stadium at the Beijing Olympics. He is a renaissance man.

Nevertheless, Picasso’s artistic practice and philosophical nuances run through Ai’s works, not to mention their multifarious shared interests. Both men sought to explore an invisible world beyond our sense perceptions – that is, the real external world. Like Picasso, Ai struggles with the meaning of reality. Unlike Picasso, Ai brings into this arena social responsibility and notions of individual creativity that ultimately give rise to an image of the world very different from Picasso’s. Ai opens the curtain to the cosmos – but he finds nothing there.

How is it that Ai can employ notions of science and yet reach the conclusion that there is no objective reality, or truth, beyond appearances? After all the goal of science is to do just that. […]

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“Ai Weiwei: Four Movements” on view at Phillips de Pury & Company, London. The show is composed of four new sculpture series – “Marble Chairs”, “Moon Chests”, “Bubbles”, and selected “Furniture” works.

Exhibition 3 – 28 March 2009
Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm
Phillips de Pury & Co.
Howick Place London SW1P 1BB