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Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace

  • Blenheim Palace
  • Blenheim Palace
  • Blenheim Palace
  • Blenheim Palace
  • Blenheim Palace
September 29, 2014
Ana Bambic Kostov is an art historian with passion for contemporary art.

There is something superbly exciting in exhibiting contemporary art in historic venues – the combination of the old spirit and the new thought is often overwhelming and spectacular. It proves that art is timeless and important, whereas imaginative time separated expressions merge well on philosophical and even aesthetical value. One of the famous venues in the UK is Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, an opulent venue that is opening a retrospective by the famous Chinese artist and dissident,  immortalized even in the work of others, Ai Weiwei this October. Ai Weiwei’s artistic puns will be displayed alongside Palace’s treasures, creating a unique installation for both concepts. The exhibition will mark the launch of the Blenheim Art Foundation, announcing a new Blenheim contemporary art program.

Blenheim Palace
Ai Weiwei – He Xie at Blenheim Palace

Ai Weiwei Retrospective

The collection of artwork by Ai Weiwei will encompass more than 50 pieces created over past three decades, starting with photographs taken during the artist’s life in New York in the 1980s, ending with the latest large, plush carpet called Soft Ground specially made for the exhibition site and spread out through the Great Hall. Some of his most intriguing pieces will complement the display, as a table made of wood recycled from temples from the Qing Dynasty period (1644 – 1911), one of which is already a part of Tsai Museum, hand-painted porcelain plates, decomposed ancient Chinese vases, or his Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold in gold and the magnificent chandelier reminiscent of both the most ostentatious rococo, or a spaceship, depending on the angle. Some of the pieces will be arranged in the Stables Courtyard room, for the first time used as an exhibition space on this occasion. Pertinent combination of the traditional and the current, the West and the East is sure to make a glorious show packed with complex, and frequently hard to comprehend, political messages directed as criticism against Chinese authorities. Ai Weiwei’s reflections are symbolic of oppression, and much more – of freedom, which his physically does not enjoy, also mirrored in his recent engagement on Alcatraz island.

Blenheim Palace
Ai-Weiwei – Circle of Animals Zodiac Heads Gold, 2010 -Dragon

Technology Erases Borders

Ai Weiwei is on a house arrest in Beijing and he cannot leave the country. Therefore, this enormous exhibition had to be planned and designed remotely. Once again, modern technologies, of which the Eastern creator is fond of, especially the Internet tools such as Instagram. Blenheim Palace team laser scanned the entire venue and sent the plans to the artist in China, who then approached the 17th century palace as a new setting for his radically different pieces. Ai Weiwei’s architectural background came in as exceptionally useful in planning and design of computer 3D models, which were sent to the UK, for the artworks to be produced. Thus has the old noble English home, expectedly filled with crafts and objects from old China, become a dramatic scenography for the Chinese contemporary art, frequently made of china. A strong irony is contained within the confronted cultural notions, delivering a very clear message – art takes no boundaries, nor does freethought.

Blenheim Palace
Ai-Weiwei – Circle of Animals Zodiac Heads Gold, 2010 -Dragon

Social Criticism and China

Thinking about the pieces that are to be exposed at the Blenheim Palace, it can be noticed that Ai Weiwei is a passionate follower of Duchamp’s ready-made concept. His ready-mades are naturally related to the current socio-political context, whereas he was so daring as to dip priceless porcelain vases in Mercedes and BMW car paint, commenting on the new accumulation and unjust shifts of wealth in China, and on the serious environmental issue caused by the five million of automobiles on the road daily across the country. Another visual calembour is immanent to his piece 2300 River Crabe, or He Xie from 2010. The work represents a swarming multitude of porcelain crabs, laid across the floor of a Blenheim room dripping in crimson, a reference to the over-population and the forced harmony in Chinese society, while the original title ambiguously suggests the idea.

Blenheim Palace
Ai-Weiwei – Circle of Animals Zodiac Heads Gold, 2010 – Rooster

Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace Exhibition

Through his criticism of his own society, Ai Weiwei’s postmodernism raises an abundance of questions related to the global community as well. Therefore, a unique exhibition, the first contemporary show at the Blenheim Palace ever, quickly becomes a must-see, as the artist himself will be unfortunately forced to miss it. Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace officially opens on October 1, running through December 14, 2014, tickets required.

Blenheim Palace
Ai-Weiwei – Circle of Animals Zodiac Heads Gold, 2010

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