By Reid Duncan
Ai Weiwei’s latest show at Palazzo Strozza in Florence showcases an artist who is at an almost breaking point of frustration over his government and society of China. Wewei has long been critical of the Chinese government regarding censorship and freedom, and this exhibition comes a few years after Weiwei himself was thrown in jail for reasons revolving around him criticizing the Chinese government through his art. Weiwei’s latest exhibition is one that chronicles his personal narrative while weaving together his refined ways of expressing his dissidence towards censorship.
Weiwei tackles these heavy topics by putting an emphasis on materiality, space, tradition and technique. One of the most resonating pieces in the show happens to be a room that has ancient Chinese urns painted various colors with car paint, while three lego paintings of Weiwei dropping an ancient Chinese urn hang behind them. Weiwei has been condemned by many as vandalizing precious Chinese history, while others see it as an act of necessary societal retaliation. In this installation he seems to be expressing his dissonance towards China’s separation from its ancient culture as a result of political and economic ruptures starting during the Chinese Revolution. While it is very much a questionable piece, it has an extremely powerful message that leaves the viewer thinking very critically.
Another strong part of the exhibition is a room filled with Weiwei’s Lego paintings of iconic Florentines that were denounced by the government for various reasons. Weiwei has taken recognizable paintings and re-contextualized them in a way that turns them into pop art highlighting the societal importance of each person painted.
A reoccurring motif in the exhibition is some gaudy yellow wallpaper that lines many of the Palazzo’s walls. The wallpaper is a collage of the twitter logo, traditional Chinese relics and surveillance cameras; intended to make the viewer never stop thinking about Chinese censorship with media outlets and other various so called freedoms.
All in all Weiwei has captured the pressing issues of today’s Chinese society in a way that also chronicles his personal struggles with Chinese authority.