Artlyst Photo Special: Ai Weiwei At The Royal Academy Of Arts

Ai Weiwei

The Royal Academy of Arts is currently presenting a landmark exhibition of the Honorary Royal Academician, Ai Weiwei. Although Ai is one of China’s leading contemporary artists, his work has not been seen extensively in Britain and the Royal Academy is presenting the first major institutional survey of his artistic output. The exhibition includes significant works from 1993 onwards, the date that marks Ai Weiwei’s return to China following more than a decade living in New York. The artist has created new, site-specific installations and interventions throughout the Royal Academy’s spaces.

Image: Ai Weiwei Tree 2009 – 2015
. Photo P A Black © Artlyst 2015.

Ai stated: “I’m honoured to have the chance to exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts. Tim Marlow and the rest of the exhibition team have a history of producing outstanding exhibitions. I’m very happy to be a part of it. This exhibition is my first major survey in London, a city I greatly admire. The selected artworks reflect my practice in recent years, and also include new works made specifically for this show.”

Image: Ai Weiwei Marble Armchair in the RA courtyard
. Photo P A Black © Artlyst 2015.

The artist transforms materials to convey his ideas, whether in wood, porcelain, marble or jade, testing the skills of the craftsmen working to his brief in the process. Sculptures such as Surveillance Camera, 2010 and Video Camera, 2010, both acts of craftsmanship, monumentalise the technology used to monitor, simultaneously rendering it useless and absurd. A new artwork, Remains, 2015, is also included in the exhibition. Fabricated in porcelain, the work replicates in meticulous detail a group of bones that were recently excavated at a site of a labour camp that operated under Chairman Mao in the 1950s.

Image: Ai Weiwei, Straight, 2008-2012. Photo P A Black © Artlyst 2015.

Tim Marlow, Artistic Director and co-curator of the exhibition, said: “Ai Weiwei is one of the most important artists in the world today but his work has not been seen anywhere near as much as it should have been in the UK. This exhibition will begin to redress that balance and give an extensive new audience the chance to experience a creative phenomenon that is at once radical, political, architectural, historical, poetic, materially inventive and transformative … even before they’ve walked through the Courtyard.”

Image: Ai Weiwei, Straight, 2008-2012. Photo P A Black © Artlyst 2015.

Adrian Locke, co-curator of the exhibition added: “Working with Ai Weiwei has presented us with new challenges but his ability to comprehend space, even without having experienced it first hand, and the clarity of his vision for the use of that space in relation to his work has been revelatory.”

Image: Ai Weiwei, 
S.A.C.R.E.D. 2011-2013. Photo P A Black © Artlyst 2015.

One of the key installations within the exhibition will be Straight, 2008-12, part of the body of work related to the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. Fabricated from ninety tonnes of bent and twisted rebar (the steel rods used in the construction of reinforced concrete buildings), collected by the artist and straightened by hand, it is a sober monument to the victims of the earthquake. The subject of destruction, whether by demolition or as a consequence of natural disasters is one of a number of recurring themes and motifs that Ai returns to within his body of work.

Image: Ai Weiwei at the centre of the Twitter logo. Photo P A Black © Artlyst 2015.

The exhibition has been developed in close collaboration with the artist, who has taken an architectural approach to the layout of the exhibition, within the Royal Academy’s Main Galleries, befitting the monumental character of many of Ai’s pieces. The artist has virtually navigated the spaces from his studio in Beijing, through video footage of the galleries and architectural plans. The curators have also made regular visits to his studio. Ai regained his passport in July 2015 and travelled to London for the Royal Academy’s exhibition.

Photos P A Black © Artlyst 2015

Ai Weiwei Royal Academy – until 13 December 2015