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MIA and WAC celebrate the art of Ai Weiwei this month

Posted on by Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, born 1957)
Marble Chair in Gallery 217, 2008
White marble
Gift of funds from Eric Dayton in honor of Bruce Dayton

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei returned to his home in Beijing on June 22 after nearly three months in police custody amid a major government crackdown on human rights activists. His release followed a sustained international campaign calling for his freedom. Many people reacted strongly to the artist’s prolonged detention and signed a petition calling for his release.

On July 12, the Walker Art Center is hosting an event that would have marked the 100th day of Ai’s detention. On that day, people are invited to bring chairs of any type to the Walker’s Open Field. The goal is to amass 1,001 chairs by 6 p.m. as a way to celebrate Ai’s freedom and to acknowledge the bravery of artists around the world who put themselves at risk by creating works that challenge the status quo.

At the MIA, Ai Weiwei’s Marble Chair (2008) – a sculpture carved from a single block of marble to resemble a traditional yokeback chair – is installed at the entrance to the museum’s Asian art galleries, G217. Ai started collecting Ming and Q’ing dynasty art works when he was in China and, in 1997, began disassembling and reconstructing them into hybrid forms and minimalist sculptures. Marble Chair is inspired by antique Chinese furniture and influenced by the systematic destruction of Chinese culture that began during the Cultural Revolution. It resembles a traditional yokeback chair, one of which his family was allowed to keep when they were in exile. Ai’s Marble Chair is a poignant symbol of the continuities and disruptions of cultural tradition that permeate China today. The solemnity of the object, and its ability to evoke all that has been lost in China’s rush to modernize, make it a powerful memorial to the past.

Ai’s marble chair is also a potent reminder of his Fairytale installation in Kassel, Germany, in 2007, when he flew 1,001 Chinese workers (who had never traveled outside of China) to Germany to sit in 1,001 traditional Chinese chairs. The work was a commentary on the nature of displacement, representation, and shifting Chinese identity.

—-Liz Armstrong, Curator of Contemporary Art

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