The most extensive UK exhibition to date by the celebrated Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei will be opening at Blenheim Palace on 1 October, as the launch exhibition of the Blenheim Art Foundation. The exhibition will showcase more than 50 artworks by Mr Ai produced over the last 30 years. Featuring early photography dating to Ai’s time spent in New York in the 1980s through to new site-specific works conceived in China especially for the Palace, the show will give visitors the opportunity to experience first-hand the breadth of the artist’s practice, taking place throughout Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its grounds.
Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace is the first major contemporary art exhibition to be presented in a building that dates back to 1704 and was famously the birth place of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill in 1874. Inviting a new experience of Blenheim Palace by integrating artworks throughout the richly furnished palace rooms, as well as in the park and Formal Gardens, the exhibition will showcase the work of an artist known for his decisive breaking of tradition and will invite visitors to consider the artist’s particular vision, which questions what it is that we call ‘contemporary’.
A globally-recognised social activist, Ai Weiwei has not been able to leave China since 2011 when his passport was confiscated by Chinese authorities. The exhibition at Blenheim Palace is therefore realised through a close collaboration between the artist and the Blenheim Art Foundation team who have worked together with 3D plans and models of the site and grounds. New works realised for the Palace will include ‘Soft Ground (Great Hall)’, a site-specific carpet measuring 4510cm by 200cm displayed in the Great Hall; alongside hand-painted porcelain plates with ‘freedom flower’ details in the China Ante Room and ‘Sunflower Seed Stools’, also crafted in porcelain.
Seminal artworks on display will include ‘Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold’ (2010), Ai Weiwei’s reinterpretation of the legendary bronze zodiac head statues that once surrounded the fountain-clock at Emperor Yuanming Yuan’s Beijing imperial retreat and ‘He Xie’ (2010), featuring 2300 small porcelain crabs presented in the Red Drawing Room. The show will feature 55 photographs by Ai Weiwei documenting his time spent in New York 1983-1993 alongside ‘Marble Surveillance Camera’ (2010), a poignant reminder of Ai’s current situation; ‘Slanted Table’ (1997), a reconfigured Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) table; and ‘Map of China’, (2009) formed from wood reclaimed from temples also dating to the Qing Dynasty.
As the inaugural exhibition of the Blenheim Art Foundation, Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace marks a new programme of contemporary art, which will see exhibitions presented at the palace by internationally acclaimed contemporary artists. It is founded by Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill, whose family have resided at Blenheim Palace since it was built in the early 18th century, and whose father the 11th Duke of Marlborough is the current owner. A dedicated collector of contemporary art, Lord Edward has long held the ambition to launch a contemporary art programme at Blenheim Palace. He realises Blenheim Art Foundation with newly appointed Director, Michael Frahm.
Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill, Founder, Blenheim Art Foundation, said: “The launch of the Blenheim Art Foundation is a very exciting moment for Blenheim Palace. We are delighted to be able to host an artist of the calibre and eminence of Ai Weiwei at Blenheim and hope that our new programme of contemporary art, beginning with this exhibition, will challenge and inspire our visitors.”
Michael Frahm, Director, Blenheim Art Foundation, said: “This exhibition presents an extensive view of the artist’s diverse practice spanning more than three decades from the early 1980s in New York to modern day Beijing, where he is today confined to the borders of China. Ai Weiwei’s way of approaching the world challenges the status quo and he continues to raise critical questions on social, cultural and political issues. It has been a true pleasure working with Ai Weiwei, turning our vision into reality, and it is a great privilege for us to launch Blenheim Art Foundation with one of the most important living artists.”
Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace 1 October – 14 December 2014