• Ai Weiwei unveils new life size marble work inspired by ancient Cycladic art
• The exhibition reveals new works by the artist responding to the refugee crisis
• Six Greek Lesvos-based photographers have been selected by Ai Weiwei to show their work about the refugee crisis as part of the exhibition
Today, the Museum of Cycladic Art (MCA) in Athens unveils Ai Weiwei at Cycladic (20 May – 30 Oct 2016), the artist’s first major exhibition in Greece which includes a new artwork that responds to the museum’s collection. This is the artist’s first exhibition in an archaeological museum and follows a closs collaboration between Ai Weiwei and the MCA. Significant works by the Chinese artist are displayed among the museum’s renowned permanent collection. The exhibition introduces Ai’s practice to the Greek audience through some of his most canonical works and highlights his most recent activities from the past months that he has spent in Greece documenting the refugee crisis.
The exhibition looks at his recurring use of particular materials which draw parallels with Greek counterparts, such as wood and marble. Amongst the iconic pieces on display are Divina Proportione (2012), Mask (2011), Cao (2014) and Grapes (2011). Among the new works created for the show is Standing Figure (2016), a life-size sculpture made entirely out of marble which alludes to a style prevalent in the Early Cycladic era. In a personal interpretation of Cycladic art, Ai has augmented the scale, thus transforming the modest Cycladic figurine into a towering deity. In reference to his own infamous triptych of photographs Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995), the sculpture has outstretched arms and a vessel hovering below, alluding to the destruction of Chinese antique objects that took place during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. These works displayed within the MCA highlight the way in which contemporary art can converse with artefacts from the past.
Following an invitation by the MCA in December 2015, Ai travelled to the Greek island of Lesvos to document the unfolding refugee crisis. A number of new works created in response to his time in the camps will be displayed throughout the MCA. Ai applies his method of elevating everyday objects to iconic status with items that have become synonymous to the refugee crisis. Such works as his marble Tyre (2016) and Zodiac Boat (2016) convey the perils and poor living conditions which hundreds of thousands of refugees are suffering.
Tear Bottle/Tear Gas Canister (working title) (2016), is a further political statement: a gas canister used by the FYROM police against the refugees is placed alongside an antique tear bottle, a delicate vessel which was used to collect the tears of mourners. Iphone Wallpaper (2016) presents a collage of over 12,030 images taken by Ai on his phone between January 2016 and April 2016 during the height of his stay on the island of Lesvos.
In addition, Ai Weiwei, in partnership with The Photographic Society of Mytilene, will present a series of photographs of the crisis taken by six Greek amateur photographers. Finally outside on the MCA's balcony Ai’s new work Flags (Greece), Flags (Europe) and Flags (Shadow) will hang above the museum
doors during the exhibition, commenting on notions of national identity and displacement, themes central to the refugee issue.
Sandra Marinopoulos, President of the Museum of Cycladic Art says, “Ai Weiwei’s presence at the Museum of Cycladic Art highlights our innovative –archaeological and contemporary– high quality exhibition schedule. The idea of an ongoing, creative dialogue between the archaeological collections and contemporary art has been pursued by the Museum of Cycladic Art for the last ten years. Ai is an influential artist, a complex man, intensely political and an activist, and at the same time a kind and warm person, who was deeply moved when he first saw our Museum’s collections. As a result he created a new work made specifically for the Museum of Cycladic Art, inspired by Cycladic art. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see a selection of Ai’s creations as well as works, including videos and photographs, focusing on the refugee crisis.”
Michael Frahm, Exhibition Curator says “Ai Weiwei is undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of our time. We have worked closely to put together an exhibition that introduces his practice over the last decade, as well as presents new works made especially for this show. The nature of the project is challenging, with the show opening at a significant time in Greek and European history. We are therefore delighted to have been able to turn this vision into a reality. Ai’s work is always hard-hitting, powerful, and thought-provoking, and we hope viewers will come away moved, and reflective.”
Born in Beijing in 1957, Ai Weiwei is one of the most significant and outspoken artists to emerge from China in recent decades. As an artist, architect, writer, filmmaker and political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese government's stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, as well as the quality of human life in modern-day China. In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, he was held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of "economic crimes”. Upon his release, he was prohibited from traveling abroad, engaging in public speech, and was subjected to continued government surveillance. His passport was eventually returned to him in 2015. Ai Weiwei is best known for his sculptures and large-scale installations, which conceptually marry traditional Chinese craft and modes of thought with contemporary political messages. In his sculptural works he often uses reclaimed materials such as ancient pottery, wood from destroyed temples, marble and jade, uniting past and present; the old China and the new. As well as engaging in many long-term research projects such as his ‘Citizens’ Investigation’ into the Sichuan Earthquake victims in 2008, Ai also served as artistic consultant on the design of the National “Bird’s Nest” Stadium for Beijing’s 2008 Olympics and has had major exhibitions and pavilions all around the world. Instagram: aiww | Twitter: @aiww