Exploring the City with Girlfriends – Ai Weiwei Exhibit

Ai Weiwei at the Marciano Art Foundation

A few months ago, we heard that Ai Weiwei was going to have his Life Cycle Exhibit here in Los Angeles at the Marciano Art Foundation. We marked our calendar and planned our trip. Ai Weiwei is one of China's leading artists who was once jailed for activism, although the Chinese Government claims that it was for tax crimes. To this day, he has continued to stir up controversy while creating exceptional art.

There is much to be discussed about Ai Weiwei's art, and even more could be said about his outspoken activism against the Chinese government, but one thing is clear: the work we saw on this warm Saturday afternoon is special. The line to see the exhibit ran along a cool hard concrete wall of the recently gutted 2,000 seat auditorium. In its former life the auditorium was central to the Millard Sheets’ Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, built in 1961. Maurice and Paul Marciano bought and repurposed the building in order to bring art and culture to the community. In the center of the now empty hall sits two installations, massive in scale: Sunflower Seeds 2010 and Spouts 2015.

Sunflower Seeds is composed of 49 tons of individual porcelain sunflower seeds made by 1600 artisans. Each seed, made of meticulously hand painted porcelain, is laid out into a flat square with its side edges descending to the floor.

The second large scale installation, Spouts, is made up of broken pieces of teapot spouts randomly scattered and glued onto a square board that is equal in size to Sunflower Seeds. Antique teapots date as far back as the Song dynasty (960–1279).

As we approach the main event, Life Cycle, it is clear that we are in for more than art. We are on a journey. As we descend a set of stairs (where the auditorium’s stage once sat) we see a massive boat made of bamboo while sitting inside it are the crammed passengers. Incredibly, each individual is different from the others, a man, goat, bull, horse and so on, representing millions of people forcibly displaced around the world. Life Cycle (2018) references the artist’s 2017 stunning sculpture, Law of the Journey. This is Ai’s response to the global refugee crisis, using an inflatable, black PVC rubber to depict the makeshift boats used to reach Europe. In this new version of the desperate plight of refugees, he uses the traditional Chinese kite-making techniques of bamboo.

Suspended around the boat are figures representing mythical creatures from Shanhaijing, each beautifully crafted from bamboo and silk. Large mythical creatures such as Chuniao, Xu and Yunwei, to name just a few, cast delicate shadows on the wall creating almost a second layer of exhibit.  Intermingled with Shanhaijing are more modern pieces such as a bicycle, numbers, sea creatures, hands and more. Chinese text informs the reader of the mythic geography and the story of Shanhaijing dating back to the 4th century B.C.

These breathtaking, delicate figures have been constructed in Weifang, a Chinese city in Shandong province having a deep history of kite-making as far back as the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

I highly recommend this exhibit which is closing March 3, 2019.   LifeCycle


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