Three exhibit spaces in Los Angeles recently showcased the work of Chinese artist Ai WeiWei (b. 1957) who has lived and worked in Berlin, Germany since 2015.
At the Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, 5,929 crudely-built wooden stools from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing dynasty (1644-1911) formed a 72-foot square centerpiece, while the walls were adorned by 12 LEGO-brick artworks: Each featuring the head of a Chinese zodiac sign juxtaposing a famous landmark. 2019 is the year of the Boar or Pig. Paris’s Eiffel Tower is the chosen monument to complement the pig head – don’t ask why. This space’s least conspicuous piece–positioned behind the seemingly countless stools–was Ai’s 2006 Ton of Tea, made with exactly one ton of compressed Pu’er tea and through which Ai hopes to convey his respect for traditional Chinese materials and craftsmanship.
Upon entering Marciano Art Foundation’s main hall, visitors were presented with Ai’s 2010 porcelain work Sunflower Seeds–created by 1,600 modern-day artisans–and the 2015 Spouts: A massive pile of teapot spouts from the Song dynasty (960 – 1279), redolent of mouths and yearning for freedom of speech.
The third space, UTA Artist Space, did not feature any tea-related pieces.
I cannot imagine any other way to collect all the stools and teapot spouts, other than searching and sorting through discards at major landfills or recycle centers in China.
Different forms of creativity should not be critiqued or evaluated against one another. I can’t help but recall Yayoi Kusama’s exhibit at the Broad last year, which drew a tremendous crowd in spite of the hefty admission fee and long wait time. All Angelinos should have gone see at least one of these three accessible, free-of-charge, and thought-provoking exhibits; yet not many did. I have not become a fan but am looking forward to examining Ai’s other works in the future.