I recently went to Edmund de Waal’s exhibition at the Royal Academy. I am not sure what I was expecting but I but I found myself to be really rather overawed by the experience. It was quite a small exhibition and I think that this gave it an intimacy which added to the enjoyment.
Perhaps it was the subdued lighting and the sense of history of the setting which provided such a special atmosphere. The library has never been used for an exhibition before and so there was a feeling of having been invited into a private part of the Academy; that you were no longer just the general public. We were the only people there for most of the time and, with a very informative and interesting security man, we toured the exhibition learning a lot about the library and feeling very privileged.
Because I don’t look very carefully at all the blurb which the RA sends me through the post, I think I had assumed that the exhibition was about de Waal more than by de Waal. I had not expected to see such a diverse collection of work. There was his Hare with Amber Eyes – I have only just got round to reading the book and so I was extraordinarily emotional about seeing this exquisite beauty so soon afterwards. How wonderful that, after all this piece has seen, it has made it to such a hallowed location, even on a temporary basis. There also were a number of de Waal’s own pieces lighting up dark corners of the library with the stunning translucence of porcelain. But how amazing to be invited to think about the works of composer John Cage and a pure white Meissen beaker during the same afternoon.
I am a dead ringer for collections of similar, very simple things and so I love the idea of a group of white objects. I also go floppy at the knees when I real things such as the opening paragraph of the exhibition blurb: ‘White is an aura. White is a staging post to look at the word from. White is not neutral; it forces other colours to reveal themselves. It moralises – it is clean when nothing else is clean, it is light when most things are heavy. It is political. It is enmeshed in the world’. Yes, it is!
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?