Ai Weiwei – Roots and Branches & Laundromat

Ai Weiwei, Laundromat, Installation View at Deitch Projects, Soho. 2016. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Ai Weiwei, Roots and Branches, 2016. Mary Boone Gallery, New York. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Ai Weiwei, Roots and Branches, 2016. Mary Boone Gallery, New York. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Ai Weiwei, Roots and Branches, Installation View. Lisson Gallery, New York, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Ai Weiwei, Laundromat, Installation View at Deitch Projects, Soho. 2016. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Ai Weiwei, Laundromat, Installation View at Deitch Projects, Soho. 2016. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
TOP
3722
31
0
 
22
Dec
22
Dec
COBO Challenge

This fall, Ai Weiwei took over New York City, filling four galleries with new works and one heart-wrenching installation.  A year after the Chinese government returned his passport, the artist has relocated to Berlin and has taken up a variety of causes beyond the borders of his homeland.  On this occasion, he has focused on the pressing situation of refugees in Europe, perhaps identifying with their plight as one who has had to leave home in hopes of safety and freedom in a foreign land.

TEXT : Barbara Pollack
Images: Courtesy of the artist and the galleries

 

Ai Weiwei, Laundromat, Installation View at Deitch Projects, Soho. 2016. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Ai Weiwei, Laundromat, Installation View at Deitch Projects, Soho. 2016. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.

 

In Chelsea, still the main gallery district in New York City, Ai Weiwei took over Mary Boone Gallery and Lisson Gallery to present Roots and Branches, monumental works dealing which evoked the sensation of rootlessness and dislocation experienced by refugees.  Mary Boone Gallery was dominated by Tree, a 25-foot tall recreation of a towering tree, assembled from weathered sections of dead trees brought down from the mountains in Southern China and bolted together to form a whole tree with spreading branches.  This Frankenstein like sculpture underscored the futility of bringing to life the remains of the dead while presenting a new resolution from remnants of the past.  Tree dominated the gallery in front of wallpaper decorated with patterns of golden surveillance cameras.

 

Ai Weiwei, Roots and Branches, 2016. Mary Boone Gallery, New York. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Ai Weiwei, Roots and Branches, 2016. Mary Boone Gallery, New York. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.

 

Other works on view, including a replica of his famous series of photographs, Dropping a Han Urn, rendered in Lego blocks, seemed diminished in comparison.  Uptown, at Mary Boone’s other gallery, he created a circle on the floor of 40,000 teapot spouts, looking very much like severed fingers, lifeless and impotent.  This was presented against a background wallpaper patterned with outstretched hands with their middle finger extended, a “Fuck You” gesture frequently employed by the artist.  With a little effort, this seemingly trite installation could be read as symbolic of Ai’s current position as a dissident who has survived despite repeated efforts to render him powerless or as an artist struggling to find new ways to effect change in face of global challenges to the contrary.

 

Ai Weiwei, Roots and Branches, 2016. Mary Boone Gallery, New York. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Ai Weiwei, Roots and Branches, 2016. Mary Boone Gallery, New York. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.

 

Across the street at Lisson Gallery, the theme of Roots and Branches continued, this time with full replicas of felled trees, rendered in cast-iron.  Seemingly natural, these seven sculptures invite contemplation and meditation, like contemporary Scholar’s Rocks bringing aspects of nature indoors.  But they are also terrifying and intimidating in their sheer scale and weight, focusing our attention on the sheer magnitude of creating such works and shipping them to this location in New York.  This sensation was brought into focus by the wallpaper in this gallery--Ai Weiwei’s most effective use of this new medium–which displayed cartoon like stories of refugees traveling en masse and facing police at security check-points and other dangers along their way.

 

Ai Weiwei, Roots and Branches, Installation View. Lisson Gallery, New York, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Ai Weiwei, Roots and Branches, Installation View. Lisson Gallery, New York, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.

 

But the heart of Ai Weiwei’s exhibitions in New York can be found at Deitch Projects in Soho where he installed Laundromat, a gallery-scale installation focused on the present-day plight of refugees stranded at the camp in Idomeni on the border of Greece.  Ai Weiwei imbedded himself in this camp with a film crew who captured the inhumane conditions there, where people lived in precarious tents with little water and no amenities, trying to survive in a dire situation.  The galleries walls and floor were covered with the artist’s Instagram feed from the site, while rows and rows of clothing hung on coat racks in orderly fashion throughout the space.  A video in a corner of the vast gallery explained how the refugees were forced to leave the camp, forced to abandon their few possessions, leaving behind piles of clothes and other precious necessities.  Ai Wewei’s team gathered these items, carefully laundered them and sorted them in preparation for this art exhibit.  The resulting installation served as a site of mourning, for the suffering experienced before our eyes and for our own humanity diminished by our inability to act.

 

Ai Weiwei, Laundromat, Installation View at Deitch Projects, Soho. 2016. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Ai Weiwei, Laundromat, Installation View at Deitch Projects, Soho. 2016. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Ai Weiwei, Laundromat, Installation View at Deitch Projects, Soho. 2016. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.
Ai Weiwei, Laundromat, Installation View at Deitch Projects, Soho. 2016. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.

 

Laundromat is an important exhibition whose power reaches well beyond the confines of the art world.   It would be unfortunate if feelings about Ai Weiwei –dissident, self-promoter or brilliant artist? — interfere with appreciation of this installation.  In many ways, this is a work of art that is impossible to review.  Its delivery of information about the human condition and our lack of charity toward the less fortunate is immediate, powerful and impossible to erase from our minds.  In this year, when so many governments have turned this tragic situation into a xenophobic political agenda, works like Laundromat are more important than ever before.  And for that, Ai Weiwei should be commended and appreciated.

 

 

Ai Weiwei
Roots and Branches
5 November – 23 December
Mary Boone Gallery
745 Fifth Avenue &
541 West 24th Street
New York

Ai Weiwei
Roots and Branches
5 November – 23 December 2016
Lisson Gallery
504 West 24th Street
New York

Ai Weiwei 
Laundromat
5 November – 23 December 2016
Deitch Projects
76 Grand Street
New York

 

About the artist:

Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing where he lives and works. He attended Beijing Film Academy and later, on moving to New York (1981–1993), continued his studies at the Parsons School of Design. Major solo exhibitions include Helsinki Art Museum (2016), Royal Academy (2015), Martin Gropius Bau (2014), Indianapolis Museum of Art (2013), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. (2012), Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan (2011), Tate Modern, London (2010) and Haus der Kunst, Munich (2009). Architectural collaborations include the 2012 Serpentine Pavilion and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Stadium, with Herzog and de Meuron. Among numerous awards and honours, he won the lifetime achievement award from the Chinese Contemporary Art Awards in 2008 and the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent from the Human Rights Foundation, New York in 2012; he was made Honorary Academician at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 2011.

 


Barbara Pollack

Since 1994, Barbara Pollack has written on contemporary art for such publications as The New York Times, the Village Voice, Art in America, Vanity Fair and of course, Artnews, among many others. She is the author of the book, The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China and has written dozens of catalogue essays for a wide range of international artists. In addition to writing, Pollack is an independent curator who organized the exhibition, We Chat: A Dialogue in Contemporary Chinese Art, currently at Asia Society Texas and she is a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She has been awarded two grants from the Asian Cultural Council as well as receiving the prestigious Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writer Grant.

 

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply