If you’ve heard of one Chinese artist in the past couple of years it’s probably Ai Weiwei. A leading figure in the contemporary art scene, and one of the most powerful Chinese artists working today, Ai Weiwei received international attention when the Chinese government put him under house arrest for nearly three months in 2011.
In August, Ai Weiwei: According to What? landed in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario and shows a mini-retrospective of his work. Most notable: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995/2009) and Colored Vases (2007-2010). In the first, the artist is photographed dropping a vase from the Han Dynasty, which dates back to 206 BC. In Colored Vases, antique Chinese vases are painted, dipped and spattered with Andy Warhol pop art hues of red, yellow, green and purple –both a commentary on the Chinese government’s selective history on what is considered sacred.
Playing backdrop to the exhibition is Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, the 2012 documentary that examines the artist’s life and brings to light the events that lead to his detainment by the Chinese government. This not about producing art: He Xie river crab (in which tons upon tons of plastic replicas of China’s famous river crab are piled up in the middle of the floor) and Remembrance (2010), a floor-to-ceiling installation of handwritten names of the victims from the 2008 Sichuan earthquake (which took years to compile) are living remnants of his work as an activist.
Constantly challenging democracy and human rights in China, the pieces in the show are more afterthought than artwork and by visiting the exhibit you are actively participating in the conversation –and to Ai Weiwei, that is pure art.
Ai Weiwei: According to What? runs from now until October 27th 2013 at the AGO, www.ago.net