He is considered one of the most daring artists in China and one of the key contemporary voices that fight for freedom of expression and human rights worldwide. He recently made the headlines when Lego refused to sell him a bulk order of bricks to complete his next installation, because the project is of a political nature. The problem is, with Ai Weiwei everything is political. And this is his major strength, along with his creativity of course.
Nowadays there are too few artists with something really important to say, a solid artistic vision, and a strong statement to make. This is why you should take advantage of the exceptional opening around the clock and get to see his exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, which is at its final week. I have been and here are some of my favourite works.
It is widely known that since 2011 Ai Weiwei has been under surveillance by Chinese authorities, who detained him for 81 days in a secret prison. One of the most powerful installations born out of that experience is S.A.C.R.E.D. (2013, above), a set of six dioramas with painted fibreglass figures which recreates the small rooms and hard conditions he went through for almost three months.
Another take on the topic of control, expressed in a more poetical way, is Marble Stroller (2014, below). Born out of the creepy discover that some photographs of his son’s stroller were found in the memory card of a secret policeman’s camera, this is a marble rendition’s of that same stroller.
Moving works related to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the scandal of corruption and cover-ups that ensued after the collapse of poorly constructed schools include Straight (2008-12). While thousands of names of the children dead in the event are written on the wall, the room is flooded by what it seems to be a river made of steel reinforcing bars reclaimed from collapsed buildings.
So do yourself a favour this weekend: skip that hipster bar for a couple of hours and bring your brain, art and soul to the RA. Oh, and take your Lego bricks with you, as Ai Weiwei is now crowdsourcing his next project.