This week I visited the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy. I am a bit late really, most of my friends were there weeks ago and if you haven’t been yet, well get a move on!
Ai Weiwei needs little introduction and there is so much written about him by people who know a great deal more than me so I shall not even go there. However, I think the exhibition is worthy of a blog. As an aspiring artist I am always intrigued by the work of people who have become household names. What makes them so famous that we must flock to see their exhibitions? Is it what they stand for or the beauty of their art?
Weiwei’s work is his expression of his campaign for free speech and human rights. But I wonder how many of the people gazing with wonder at the Bicycle Chandelier spend any time at all considering the thinking behind it. The art speaks of conditions in Weiwei’s homeland but its mesmerising beauty risks masking something of that for me. I find myself so overwhelmed by the beauty of the repetitive patterns in the bicycles and also in his marble that I fear that it is too easy to forget the story behind it.
I still remember seeing his Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern back in 2010 and the stir which they caused. When I visited the Tate it was still possible to interact with the seeds and people of all ages were to be seen lying in the installation, creating ‘sunflower seed angel pictures’ sieving them through their hands and simply sitting within the drifts of ceramic pieces. But precisely how many of them were giving a single thought to the message behind them I wonder. Correct me if I am wrong but is it not true that if one turns a comment into a thing of beauty or fascination, does one risk almost everyone missing the point? And if I am correct, should art which speaks of ugly situations, such as the consequences of an earthquake or suppression of free speech be so beautiful?