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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Dorment’

Ai Weiwei fills Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with 100 million ceramic sunflower seeds

Posted by artradar on October 19, 2010


AI WEIWEI CHINESE ART TATE MODERN UNILEVER SERIES INSTALLATION SCULPTURE

Ai Weiwei – artist, architectural designer, curator and social commentator – unveils his work for the prestigious Unilever Series for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall – Britain’s largest contemporary art commission. It features the first living artist from the Asia-Pacific region to be commissioned for this series. Guest poster Pippa Dennis provides an in-depth look into the production and exhibition of this breakthrough installation.

Sunflower Seeds by Ai Weiwei is a sensory and immersive installation which sees the vast 1000 square meters of the Turbine Hall covered with over a hundred million porcelain replicas of sunflower seeds, ten centimetres deep and weighing in at 150 metric tons. Each seed is individually made, intricately handcrafted by over 1600 expert artisans brought together specifically for this project in the city of Jingdezhen, home to porcelain manufacturers since the days of Imperial China.

Each ceramic seed goes through a process of twenty to thirty steps in its production, they are molded, fired and ultimately hand painted. The artist jokes that he made a few himself, but his contribution was hastily rejected by the artisans in charge, such was the level of craftsmanship involved.

Ai Weiwei. Image courtesy of Tate Modern.

“Ai Weiwei has created a truly unique experience for visitors to this year’s Unilever Series. The sense of scale and quality of craftsmanship achieved in each perfectly formed sunflower seed is astonishing. In trying to comprehend their sheer quantity, Ai provokes a multitude of ideas, from the way we perceived number and value, to the way we engage with society at large.” Sheena Wagstaff, Chief Curator, Tate Modern

Initially, the audience was invited to touch, walk on and listen to the seeds shifting beneath their feet. Image courtesy of Pippa Dennis.

The effect is a highly simplistic and subtle creation, yet complex and powerful in its depth and potential for interpretation. The sunflower itself is a profoundly symbolic object for Chinese people. A common street snack shared by friends and enjoyed by everyone, but requiring a certain skill in breaking the husk and releasing the seed in a singular movement of the teeth and tongue. For the artist it has more personal significance as he remembers it as a staple during the Mao years when material goods were virtually non-existent and food was in short supply. At this time he remembers the sharing of them as a gesture of human kindness and generosity in a period of extreme poverty and uncertainty. It was also a symbol adopted by the Communists. Propaganda pictures from this era depict Mao as the sun, and the mass of people as sunflowers turning towards him.

Ai has used the sunflower seed repeatedly in his work since his period in New York, such as Hanging Man (1983), and here this simple motif works to examine the concepts of mass production and traditional craftsmanship, an important aspect of Ai Weiwei’s work. The phenomena of “Made in China” and the association that accompanies it – repetition, copying and mass production – are all themes deeply rooted in Chinese tradition whilst recently they have taken on a new significance in the current geopolitics of cultural and economic exchange.

Ai Weiwei believes the role of the artist is not only about raising issues but transforming them. Here the seeds also raise questions about ourselves and society, what does it mean to be an individual in China, an individual in this world? Individualism in China was heavily criticized during the Mao years but now with its radical economic and urban transformation China’s attitude is starting to shift, particularly amongst the younger generations. Ai has commented “From a very young age, I started to sense that an individual has to set an example in society. Your own acts and behaviour tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society you think it should be”.

Each seed is individually made, intricately handcrafted by over 1600 expert artisans brought together specifically for this project... and goes through a process of twenty to thirty steps in its production, they are molded, fired and ultimately hand painted. Image courtesy of the Londonist.com.

Each seed is individually made, intricately handcrafted by over 1600 expert artisans brought together specifically for this project ... and goes through a process of twenty to thirty steps in its production, they are molded, fired and ultimately hand painted. Image courtesy of Londonist.com.

Ai Weiwei’s work has always had an element of political and social commentary and he has not only become an important contemporary artist on the international stage but also a leader of social thought in China and the world. He comments, “My art may be political but I never intended to create political art”. However in recent years these themes, particularly for public commissions, have become increasingly prominent and in interviews and on his blog he openly criticises the Chinese government, calling for freedom of press and speaking up for human rights. He has always said his life is ready-made, “I’m my own ready-made”, acknowledging his most significant influence, Marcel Duchamp.

Life for the artist is art, politics and exchange. The act of individuals voicing their opinions and communicating with one another is of great importance to him and his practice. In Remembering (2009), he harnessed the powers of the Internet to recruit two hundred local and regional participants in the research and archiving of the names of the children who lost their lives in the Sichuan earthquake. This project resulted in five thousand names being collated and recorded and is considered the first civil rights activity in China.

In Sunflower Seeds, he harnesses the powers of social media to take his “social sculpture” to another level. Combining online and video technologies, this commission has enabled the artist to engage in a global dialogue about the work. Below the Turbine Hall, Ai Weiwei has installed a series of video booths to record questions and comments to the artist, whilst outside the Turbine Hall the audience can connect with the artist via Twitter. One to One with the Artist also marks a milestone in the Tate’s use of new media technology and the Internet, transforming the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern into a hub of global conversation.

Marc Sands, director of audiences and media at the Tate said,

“In recent years, Tate Media has found a variety of new ways for visitors to engage with the Unilever Series commissions, from iPhone apps to interactive websites. Ai Weiwei’s own passion for new communication technologies has made it possible for us to develop something really special this year, which we hope people around the world will enjoy”.

'Sunflower Seeds' (2010). Image courtesy of Tate Modern.

'Sunflower Seeds' (2010). Image courtesy of Tate Modern.

Originally, the audience was invited to touch, walk on and listen to the seeds shifting beneath their feet. However, after a very enthusiastic response from visitors, staff noticed a fine dust rising off of the seeds, and after it was confirmed that the dust “could be damaging to health following repeated inhalation over a long period of time”, the Tate was forced to cordon the sculpture off. Visitors are still invited to view the installation “from a walkway above the hall.”

The immediate critical response has been extremely positive. The Guardian’s Adrian Searle comments, “I love it. It is a world in a hundred million objects. It is also a singular statement, in a familiar, minimal form – like Wolfgang Laib’s floor-bound rectangles of yellow pollen, Richard Long’s stones or Antony Gormley’s fields of thousands of little humanoids. Sunflower Seeds, however, is better. It is audacious, subtle, unexpected but inevitable. It is a work of great simplicity and complexity. Sunflower Seeds refers to everyday life, to hunger (the seeds were a reliable staple during the Cultural Revolution), to collective work, and to an enduring Chinese industry.”

The Telegraph’s Richard Dorment observes, “For the 11th commission in the Unilever Series, Tate Modern has offered the poisoned chalice to the Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei – and he’s come up with a masterpiece.”

With the seeming success of this event and Tate Modern’s curatorial commitment to show art from new territories, we can look forward to more opportunities to see art from the Asia-Pacific region in such significant spaces as London’s premier contemporary art museum.

About Pippa Dennis

Pippa Dennis is a Chinese art specialist based in London. She has an MA in Art History and spent ten years making documentaries for the BBC before living in Shanghai and working at Eastlink Gallery. She subsequently set up Asia Art Forum, an educational platform to promote the understanding of Asian contemporary art.

HH/KN

 

Related Topics: Chinese artists, installation art, participatory art, political art, London art

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Indian artist Anish Kapoor’s solo at Royal Academy – what did the critics call it? Performance art and Turkish toilet

Posted by artradar on January 11, 2010


INDIAN CONTEMPORARY ART SCULPTURE

Anish Kapoor’s sculpture fills London’s Royal Academy

British Indian artist Anish Kapoor’s mid-career retrospective at the Royal Academy in London, England, has just wrapped up. Two years in the making, the exhibition ran from 26 September to 11 December 2009.

It must have been at least a little daunting for the artist; he is the first living British sculptor to have a solo show occupying the entire Royal Academy gallery. Critics had lots to say. Most were positively awe-inspired. It seems that reviewers found the show at once weird, entertaining and thought-provoking.

“Kapoor’s work has always been on the edge of entertainment, even as it’s tempted to high and grand pretension,” writes Tom Lubbock for The Independent.

Among the exhibits, that filled five major galleries in the Royal Academy, there were more than a few that critics believed stood out.

Tall Tree and the Eye stood in the courtyard of the Academy. Made of 76 highly polished, 15 metre high steel spheres which reflected their surroundings, it was a newly commissioned sculpture. The Economist said, “this fine work of art, or giant-sized perceptual toy, lights up, and lightens up, its venerable surroundings.”

Shooting Into the Corner consisted of a cannon fired at 20 minute intervals, shooting red wax balls into an opposite gallery space at 30 mph.

“A crowd-pleaser and teaser, Shooting Into the Corner will be held as affectionately in popular cultural memory,” summarises Jackie Wullschlager of the Financial Times.

Unfortunately, “as this artist’s work gets bigger and more grandiose, it also gets emptier and more sterile,” she continues.

Laura Cumming, writing for Guardian.co.uk, notes, “It’s a painting in progress – and not just Pollock, but Manet’s The Execution of Emperor Maximilian. It’s a sculpture – Richard Serra’s molten lead wall spatters from the Sixties. It’s a performance and a period piece, too, invoking the history of art.”

The Economist had a high opinion of the installation entitled Snail: “Snail, another exhibit, has a fat, coiling fibreglass body which opens out into a lusciously vermilion mouth. It is terrific.”

Svayambahm was a huge truck-sized block of soft red wax trundling through all five galleries on train-style tracks, leaving a snail-like trail of red on the floor, walls and ceiling.

Adrian Searle, writing for Guardian.co.uk, says of Svayambahm, “the daftness of some of Kapoor’s art is a good counterbalance to the more ponderous pretensions the artist has always been prey to. In fact, it is the wrestling between these two tendencies that produces [this], his strongest work.”

Both Shooting Into the Corner and Svayambahm were considerably less appealing to The Economist than other exhibits: “A cannon blasts gobs of lurid red wax-plus-Vaseline; a wagon-sized contraption made up of similar stuff deposits bits of itself on floors and doors as it slowly trundles through four rooms. Both these works seem unfortunate departures from Kapoor’s admired elegance and refinement.”

Brian Sewell, in a review for The London Evening Standard, mentions that both these works have been exhibited elsewhere in Europe. Perhaps the only original piece in the exhibition was Greyman Cries, Shaman Dies, Billowing Smoke, Beauty Evoked. Unfortunately, this piece vividly reminded Sewell “of the floor of the public lavatory in Baskale, the highest town in eastern Turkey, after months of extreme water shortage.”

The Economist wrapped up it’s opinion of all the exhibits in this comment: “Are they, in the event, relevant to their setting? Not often. But some, such as the fine mirror sculptures, are certainly enhanced by it: seeing the gallery’s gilding and skylight reflected upside-down in these pieces adds to their enjoyment. Others are splendidly positioned…”

Not everyone had something good to say. Sewell, in his review for The London Evening Standard, described the exhibition as a “damp squib” and is of the opinion that “its two most sensational kinetic exhibits [Shooting Into the Corner and Svayambahm] are given to failing their essential functions.”

Richard Dorment, in his review for The Telegraph, says of the exhibition overall: “No other contemporary British artist has Kapoor’s range of imagination and no one else routinely works on this scale. Over the years, he’s become more of a public than a private artist – or at least one whose most effective works are intended not for private contemplation, but to inspire awe in large numbers of people.”

Dorment views Kapoor’s work as something closer to performance art than sculpture.

The exhibition was reported to be a combination of historical artistic reference and self-referential humour, part homage to 1960s artists like Richard Serra and part active, living sculpture. The artist has proven his ability to highlight both primitive and modernistic elements in his work and provoke these responses in the viewer.

“What I admire about him most…is the unwavering depth of the experiences he conjures up,” said Waldemar Januszczak, of the Times Online.

It seems Anish Kapoor has again demonstrated his exceptional ability to work with traditional materials yet blend these with aspects of performance art. He works on such a large scale at every opportunity and has a huge range of imagination. This exhibition managed to absorb the viewer, highlighting what separates Kapoor from his contemporaries.

Lucie Charkin, writing for FAD, had this to say: “On reflection, no pun intended, whilst some moments in the show seem a little too contrived it could be argued that in his clever use and misuse of the RA’s galleries Kapoor has allowed himself to edge a little closer towards his personal goal of inventing ‘a new space’ with his art.”

Louise Jury, Chief Arts Correspondent for The London Evening Standard, reported “talks are in progress with major museums and galleries about buying some of the exhibition’s biggest pieces, including the tower of steel balls from the courtyard.”

The exhibition will move to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in March 2010.

KN/KCE

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