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Ai Weiwei: Tradition and Dissent

Ai Weiwei: Tradition and Dissent features selections from three decades of work created by internationally renowned artist and social activist Ai Weiwei (Chinese, born 1957). One of today’s most versatile creative minds and a vocal critic of the Chinese government, Ai creates work that addresses social justice while fostering a dialogue between traditional Chinese art praxis and modern modes of expression. Known for redefining objects and materials—by applying auto paint to Han Dynasty vessels, for example—the artist uses radical techniques that urge the viewer to grapple with the tension between construction and destruction as well as the past and present.

This exhibition will focus on artwork which speaks specifically to Ai’s engagement with Chinese materials, methods, motifs, and artifacts. By exploring tradition in nontraditional ways, Ai Weiwei makes the old new again, creating a thoughtful link between cultural heritage and his creative endeavors. Many of Ai Weiwei’s recent works simultaneously revive and remake craftsmanship practices of the past including those of wood joinery, porcelain painting, and marble sculpting. Other works, such as the artist’s Zodiac (2018) made from LEGO bricks, use contemporary materials to reimagine culturally significant symbols.

Curated specifically for display at the Springfield Museums, this exhibition presents a rare opportunity to explore well-known Ai Weiwei works such as Sunflower Seeds, Han Dynasty Urn with Coca-Cola Logo, and Double Stools. Fascinating in their own right, the works also offer a new lens through which to view the historic collections of Chinese decorative arts on view at the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum.

All work in this exhibition created by Ai Weiwei and loaned courtesy of a private collection.

This exhibition has been made possible in part by a generous grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.