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Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens in Michigan

Submitted by on January 23, 2017 – 8:09 amNo Comment

Ai Wei WeiAi Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State” is an exhibition featuring work by Chinese-born artist and activist Ai Weiwei.

Opening Friday (January 27, 2017), this is his first show in the upper Midwest as well as the first of its kind for the artist at a botanical garden or sculpture park — the full name of the exhibit’s location is, after all the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, 1000 East Beltline Avenue NE, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Known to work in a wide variety of contexts and scale, the artist’s ability to transform materials to share his ideas, concerns and vision has given rise to a critically acclaimed and widely appreciated body of work. Seemingly contrasting themes of tradition and modernity are critical to the work of Ai Weiwei. He champions free speech and global human rights through his sculpture, installations, film, photography—, and social media presence.

As the organizers note, the title of the exhibition underscores the relationship between the artist and the venue. The word “natural” sheds light on Ai Weiwei’s use of imagery from the natural world to introduce his ideas and concerns. It also refers to his use of natural materials from ceramics and silk, to bamboo and wood. The word “state” suggests multiple levels of meaning, from the state of a found object that the artist may transform, to the state of humanity, whose inequalities and injustices the artist feels compelled to call out for the betterment of the lives of women, men and children everywhere. The notion of “state” also refers to political systems that Ai Weiwei has challenged for the benefit of humankind in his native China and around the world.

The exhibition at Meijer Gardens provides Ai Weiwei the opportunity to use the diverse environments of the four gallery spaces, four indoor conservatories, auditorium and numerous public areas. Iconic works from across the artist’s repertoire, as well as work specific to Meijer Gardens, will be featured. Starting in the galleries, visitors will find iconic works such as He Xie, Blossom, Watermelon and Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn.

Also on display will be three wallpapers designed by Ai Weiwei, including the rarely seen The Animal that Looks Like a Llama but is Really an Alpaca. Shown in the Scenic Corridor are five monumental sculptural bodies derived from ancient Chinese mythological text: Taifeng, Dijiang, Shuyu, Mingshe and Shusi. Additional iconic porcelain works will be on display in the Tropical Conservatory, Arid Garden, the Seasonal Display Greenhouse and the Victorian Garden Parlor including Rock, Porcelain Rebar and Bubble.

Iron Tree by Ai WeiWeiIconic among recent work is his colossal Iron Tree (pictured at right), acquired and installed in 2015 in honor of Meijer Gardens’ 20th anniversary.

If you know when you’ll be in Michigan, Road Trips Gardeners, there’s a whole series of events surrounding the exhibit. Maybe you can time your arrival to catch one or more. The exhibit closes August 20, 2017.

(Photos courtesy of Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park)

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