Thursday, 9 October 2014

Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace

Ai Weiwei, icon of China, renowned as much for his courage in defying power as for his art, has chosen Blenheim Palace, seat of the dukes of Marlborough for his new exhibition. On the face of it an unlikely choice.  One of England's great buildings, UNESCO World Heritage site, a stately home on a stupendous scale where visitors come to be overawed by the architecture, enjoy the Capability Brown gardens and recover afterwards with a cup of tea in the shop, not to appreciate conceptual art. The choice reveals a wicked sense of humour. While the Brits may think of their country as Tate Modern, Damien Hurst and Tracy Emin, to the rest of the world, Britain is Downton Abbey and the Royal Family.

Ai Weiwei was invited to exhibit here by the Blenheim Art Foundation, creation of the duke's younger son Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill. Even though the artist is unable to leave China, due to his challenging relationship with the state, accepted. Perhaps one of the reasons he did so is because Blenheim is the birthplace of Winston Churchill; the room where the great war leader was born is preserved as a shrine. So from his studio in Beijing, Ai Weiwei curated the most comprehensive show of his work in Britain, in these extraordinary surroundings. 

Any idea that his work would be overawed by the scale of the surroundings is immediately dispelled in the entrance hall. Here hangs a colossal chandelier whose magnificence dazzles, even these opulent surroundings. What follows is stunning, the work of 'one of the most influential cultural figures of the 21st century' in one of the great secular buildings of Europe. A fabulous juxtaposition. Smile.

The Great Hall  Chandelier, 2002

Churchill Rooms  Slanted Table,1997

The North Corridor  Cao,2014

The Great Hall  Owl House, 2010

Churchiill's Birth Bed  Handcuffs, 2012

China Ante Room  Sunflower Seeds Stool, 2014

Green Drawing Room  Han Dynasty Vases in Auto Paints, 2014

West Side of the Great Hall  Han Dynasty Vase with Coca-Cola Logo, 2014

Red Drawing Room  He Xie, 2012

He Xie, 2012

Saloon   Circle of Animals, 2010

Green Writing Room  Grapes, 2011

2nd State Room Marble Chair, 2008

3rd State Room, Bowl of Pearls, 2006

Long Library  Divina Proportione, 2006

Long Library  Study of Perspective, 1995-2011

Study of Perspective, 1995-2011

Study of Perspective, 1995-2011

The Chapel  Cube, 2009  

South Park  Bubble, 2008

Secret Garden  Oil Spills, 2006

Secret Garden  Waterdrop, 2009

Secret Garden  Rock, 2009

Pillar, 2007

Gallery  New York Photographs 1983-1993

Blenheim Palace

Ai Weiwei