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Ai Weiwei Lands In Vienna

Ai Weiwei is a controversial figure wherever he goes. While his activist streak has earned him more than one headline in the media, particularly in connection with the problems he has with the regime in his native China, his artistic facet has also put him under the spotlight in all the exhibitions he unveils, given the political denunciation behind his work. Last year it was the Royal Academy of London that enshrined him as the great international artist he is. Now it is Vienna’s turn as it hosts an exhibition, running until 20 November, of his latest works. This is the largest display of Ai Weiwei’s work so far in Austria.

A Temple in the Museum

Under the title, Translocation – Transformation, referring to the metamorphosis which people and objects undergo after a deliberate relocation, migration or expulsion, the event features several installations by Ai Weiwei distributed over different spaces in the Belvedere Gardens. The main feature of the exhibition, curated by Alfred Weidinger, is located in the former Austrian pavilion for the 1958 World Expo, currently used as a platform for promoting contemporary art under the name 21er Haus. Displayed in the interior is the Wang Family Ancestral Hall, an installation which is unlikely to leave the viewer unmoved. This 14-metre-high exhibit made up of 1,300 separate pieces is an ancestral temple from the Ming Dynasty. The temple, which belonged to the Wang family, a clan of tea merchants who were expelled from China during the Cultural Revolution, was thus abandoned. Ai Weiwei acquired it from an investor some time ago and transformed it into what we see today, a decontextualised work which coexists and communicates with other architectural environments.

Another exhibition site, the Upper Belvedere pond, showcases the installation, F Lotus, where the artist elicits a reflection on subjects unfortunately in the limelight in recent years, notably the refugee crisis besetting Europe. The work comprises 1,005 discarded life vests picked up on the beaches of Lesbos after being used by Syrian refugees on their sea crossing to Europe. They are set in a total of 201 rings linked to resemble the lotus flower, the overall structure forming a hugefin the water.

Another work displayed in the Upper Belvedere pond is the Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, a veritable classic of Ai Weiwei’s oeuvre. Composed of twelve bronze heads standing for the signs of the zodiac in the Chinese horoscope, they are inspired by the fountain-clock at the summer palace of Yuanming Yuan which was ransacked by French and British troops during the Second Opium War in 1860. The treasures – including the heads – were looted and have never been returned since.

Eager to see the work of Ai Weiwei first-hand? Be sure to make a getaway to Vienna – book your Vueling here.

Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS