Ai Weiwei: Zodiac

Ai WeiWei: Zodiac
Ai Weiwei, Stools, 2013.

LOS ANGELES—Jeffrey Deitch will open his Los Angeles gallery with Zodiac, a museum-scale exhibition of new and historic works by Ai Weiwei. Along with concurrent shows at the Marciano Art Foundation and UTA Artist Space, this will be the artist’s first project in Los Angeles.

The center of the space will be filled by one of the artist’s most remarkable works, Stools (2013), comprised of 5,929 wooden stools from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties and the Republican period, gathered from villages across northern China. The accumulation of individual stools forms a 72-foot square, creating an enormous variegated surface. Very few of these stools remain in Chinese households today, but they were once a ubiquitous staple of domestic life. Each stool reveals traces of use and evokes the experience of generations of lives. Ai Weiwei admires the stools for their simple design and solid structure, a design language that remained unchanged for thousands of years.

Complementing the stools will be a new series of Zodiac works composed from thousands of plastic LEGO bricks. The set of twelve works incorporates imagery from two well-known series by the artist. The twelve LEGO Zodiac animal heads deriving from his sculpture series Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads(2010) are overlaid onto twelve landscapes and monuments from Ai’s Study of Perspective (1995–2003) series of photographs. Ai has been employing LEGO bricks as an artistic medium since 2007. He appreciates how LEGO is accessible to everyone, especially young people. His use of LEGO components is a response to the pixelated structure of digital images.

Both the Stools and the Zodiac installations are assembled from accumulated elements, a creative method that Ai has employed in many of his best-known works. His interest in accumulation and collecting relates to his desire to understand how an individual relates to society, to memory, and to objects that evoke a particular time. His use of antique stools and modern LEGO bricks are examples of how his art redefines these elements, subverting their history and nature.

The sculpture Grapes (2017) reassembles the stools into a completely different shape but uses the original structural logic so that it remains true to its original form. It provides a graceful and whimsical counterpoint to the accumulation of the 5,929 stools.

Divina Proportione (2010) and F-Size (2011) were inspired by a toy that Ai’s studio cats loved to play with. After completing these works, Ai discovered an illustration by Leonardo da Vinci for a mathematical treatise written by Luca Pacioli in 1497. One of da Vinci’s drawings is a “sphere” made from squares and triangles. The inspiration for Ai’s form is a fusion of High Renaissance genius with a contemporary plastic toy. The works in this series are made without nails or screws, using only advanced woodworking techniques perfected during the Ming Dynasty. The resulting objects blend methods, materials, functions and histories. Their identity is ambiguous, belonging to both contemporary and ancient times, representing societal changes as humanity evolves and old traditions disappear.

In his series of five one-meter square cubes, Ai combines his interest in form and volume with his respect for traditional Chinese materials and craftsmanship. Cubic meters are universally used to measure quantities of materials like concrete or timber. The measure is temporary or transient since the material loses its cubic form as soon as it is turned into something else during the construction process. Ai makes the cubic measure permanent, choosing materials from which he creates objects of the same size but with very different properties. His choice of materials and surface texture—tea, crystal, marble, porcelain and wood—gives them a distinctive Chinese character in contrast to the minimalist look of the modern form.

Each cube embodies the essential qualities of its material. The Ton of Tea (2006) is made from one ton of compressed tea. The Crystal Cube (2016)—which is possibly the world’s largest crystal object—creates fascinating reflections and distortions. The white Marble Cube (2010) references the history of sculpture and, in an abstract way, asserts its three-ton weight. The open Porcelain Cube (2009) contrasts its elemental abstract form with the decorative pattern reminiscent of Chinese export porcelain.

Ai’s Treasure Box (2014) is a response to the treasure boxes that were highly prized during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1711-99) and Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte en Valise (1935-41). The treasure boxes belonging to the Qianlong Emperor contained miniature replicas of favorite objects from the imperial collections as well as Western-imported curiosities. Ai’s interest in Duchamp began shortly after he arrived in New York in 1983 for his decade-long stay in the USA and is now a continuing and deeply internalized presence in his work. There is a fascinating parallel between Ai’s use of traditional Chinese stools and the stool in Duchamp’s first assisted readymade, the Bicycle Wheel (1913).

Inspired by the Chinese imperial example and by Marcel Duchamp, Ai decided to make his own treasure box, uniting Chinese traditional woodworking with his one-meter cube series. For the skilled craftsmen with whom Ai has collaborated with for over twenty years, the Treasure Boxpresented a different challenge—the creation of a complicated structure with an illusionistic surface and moving components. The box does not contain miniature reproductions of Ai’s works as in the Duchamp Boîte en Valise—or objects from his collections as in the Emperor’s treasure box—rather, it stands on its own as an abstract structure.

The back wall of the gallery will be covered in a deceptively decorative wallpaper, The Animal That Looks Like a Llama But is Really an Alpaca (2015). What from a distance looks like French eighteenth-century ormolu becomes, upon closer inspection, ominous arrays of surveillance cameras. During his years of domestic house arrest (2011–2015), the Chinese government surrounded Ai’s studio in Beijing with sixty cameras, recording his activities twenty-four hours a day. He draws on his personal experience to comment on the encroaching surveillance state both in China and in the West. The beauty of the wallpaper design in contrast to its obscured sinister subject matter may allude to the deceptive sense of freedom that people can experience walking through the city, unaware that all of their movements and interactions are being watched at all times.

Ai Weiwei is one of the world’s most influential contemporary artists, admired and scrutinized for both the power of his work and for his courageous moral voice. Ai was born in Beijing in 1957, son of the revered poet Ai Qing, who was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. After attending the Beijing Film Academy, Ai moved to New York in 1983, remaining in the city until his return to Beijing in 1993. Ai currently lives in Berlin where he is Einstein Visiting Professor at the Berlin University of the Arts. Recent projects include the documentary film Human Flow (2017) about the global refugee crisis, and his city-wide exhibition with the Public Art Fund in New York, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors (2017-18). His exhibition about the forced evacuation of refugees on the border of Greece and Macedonia, Laundromat, was presented at Jeffrey Deitch, New York in 2016. The artist’s largest exhibition to date will open at Oca in São Paulo in October 2018.

September 29, 2018–January 5, 2019

925 N Orange Drive

Opening reception Saturday, September 29th from 6-9 PM


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s