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article imageReview: Ai Weiwei — According to What? Special

By Elka Weinstei     Aug 18, 2013 in Entertainment
Toronto - Ai Weiwei is a genius, a clown, and a provocateur, but at his core he is a humanist. His retrospective show at the AGO Toronto, "According to What?" is now open to the general public. I highly recommend it.
Forget about all the other art shows you’ve seen this year. Ai Weiwei’s “According to What?” a retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario is the only one you really need to see. Six of us went to the opening day for the public yesterday, and were absolutely blown away, there were no lukewarm responses to any of it!
My introduction to Ai Weiwei’s art (besides photos on the internet) was the installation in Nathan Phillips Square “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads,” which is wonderful, but does not evoke the profound response that the AGO show does in its entirety.
In the photo gallery at the beginning of the exhibit, 10 digital screens display his photos of landscape, architecture, food, himself, his cats, art openings (the Venice Biennale); all great photos, I sat there for about 10 minutes just taking them in. But finally, two photos stood out for me among all of the changing screens — one of sandals on an earthen surface and the other of plain, polished shoes on a concrete surface, clearly the artist’s own feet on the ground — a simple, direct and universal statement.
From Ai Weiwei s exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario
From Ai Weiwei's exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario
And the best pieces in the show are just that — simple, direct, universal. “Grapes,” the installation constructed out of Qing dynasty stools, evokes a sunburst, ancient armour, and an exploding atom. “Forever,” the installation constructed out of 42 bicycles, speaks volumes about Chinese society, industrial methods, and nostalgia. “Moon Chest,” tall hollow wooden cupboards with moon-shaped cutouts, delights children and provokes much photography.
From Ai Weiwei s exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario
From Ai Weiwei's exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario
The most visceral responses are to the installations about the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 — “Snake Ceiling” constructed out of schoolchildren’s backpacks, “Straight” made of 150 tons of straightened rebar from a collapsed school, and the Wall of Names, with an audio component, consisting of the spoken and written names, birthdates and grades of the 5,335 children who died in the earthquake. Ai’s blog served as an online platform for the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project, an effort conducted by more than 50 researchers and volunteers to collect the names of the deceased students in towns across Sichuan province.
From Ai Weiwei s exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario
From Ai Weiwei's exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario
There are layers and layers of meaning in all of his art and they stay with you, you have to ponder them through the day after you see them, and they come back to you in the middle of the night. The show is uneven, he’s a great artist but I hate what he’s done to the Han dynasty pots. I get it, but it’s too obvious.
We spent almost two hours in the exhibit and could have spent much more time (I will certainly go back again). My only complaint is that the app provided with the show was very slow to load – mine never actually loaded – and the -800 telephone number, when called, simply rang and rang. I saw the sign at the beginning of the exhibit which apologized for the slow response time due to wifi problems, but then the phone number should have been the substitute for that information.
The AGO should be very proud that it is hosting this show. Go and see it!
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