FROM 23 SEPTEMBER 2016, THE FIRST MAJOR ITALIAN EXHIBITION DEDICATED TO THE CHINESE ARTIST AI WEIWEI WILL BE PRESENTED TO THE PUBLIC. ENTITLED LIBERO, THE EVENT IS UNPRECEDENTED IN THE HISTORY OF THE COMPLEX RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ITALY AND CONTEMPORARY ART.
This time it is Florence and Palazzo Strozzi which provide the vehicle and the setting through which the controversial and challenging vision of Ai Weiwei will be presented to the public in what promises to be a fruitful encounter between one of the most important venues of our cultural identity and the global themes tackled by the dissident Chinese artist.
Until 22 January 2017, all the internal and external spaces of Palazzo Strozzi – from the courtyard to the Strozzina contemporary art gallery – will host some of the artist Ai Weiwei’s most important works, and provide the backdrop for groundbreaking visual installations, and a place for diachronic linguistic encounters.
Eagerly awaited, amongst others, is the site-specific installation on two of the four windows of Palazzo Strozzi’s Renaissance façade, which take advantage of the repetitive shape of the windows and will cover the piano noble with 22 inflatable rubber lifeboats.
The disorientating yet powerful contemporary image takes us back to the drama of immigration and the paradoxical existence of hope, of the individual’s unceasing journey to freedom, like an echo of the humanitarianism that we are called upon to reactivate and retrace through the eloquence of our cultural roots, which contemporary art observes and from which it draws its inspiration..
Ai Weiwei’s journey to freedom began from the time of the move, in 1981, which took him from Peking to New York, where he worked and studied design.
His return to his homeland in 1993 marked the start of a controversial path in the pursuit of the fight for freedom of expression.
Right from the start he was a dissident artist, challenging the restrictive policies of the regime. Co-founder of the Archive of Chinese Art and the architectural studio FAKE Design, Ai Weiwei saw his blog closed down by the Chinese authorities and, in April 2011, was imprisoned for 81 days for his opposition to the regime.
The recognition he received from Amnesty International with the title of Ambassador of Conscience in 2015, and earlier (in 2012) of the Vaclav Havel Award for Creative Dissent from the Human Rights Foundation, are testaments to the acquisition – by Weiwei – of a symbolic international status and of a fundamental role in the humanitarian field that assimilates conceptual art as a basic vehicle for the expression of universal political values.
Ai Weiwei uses the diverse, heterogeneous language of the present day, ranging continually from architecture to sculpture, from the past to the present, addressing the traditional world, with its contradictions and inequalities, in a dialogue with the world that stretches from Asia right to the West, with the aim of pointing up the paradoxes and the controversies of a system that is both global and multicultural.
Sunflower Seed, the carpet of millions of sunflower seeds, hand-painted in porcelain by the artisans of the rural village of Jingdezhen, was hosted by Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, London in 2010. Through the poetic nature of the metaphor, it recounted the problem of hunger which affects a part of the Chinese population. From a provocative multiplication, it reached nihilism with the iconoclastic action in a performance in which the artist destroyed a vase of the Han dynasty, after controversially tagging the piece with the Coca Cola logo.
Tradition is the sap of our existence; its survival is necessary, and yet necessarily susceptible to evolution when it is exploited in favour of regimes and of repression.
So, Ai Weiwei distances himself from his homeland, whilst remaining solidly anchored there, in this way demonstrating that he knows exactly how to be perfectly contemporary through his capacity to insert himself into the space of the present, absorbing the world around him without being subject to it, and, when necessary, deriding it and, by so doing, emphasising its value.
The artist’s upcoming retrospective, which will run from the 23 September, 2016 to 22 January 2017, will be presented at Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. It is a fundamental milestone on a journey of reflection and dialogue – that imposes itself on our cultural and artistic tradition – with fresh questions posed by contemporary art and by the global society, in both the ethical and aesthetic sense.
The venue is a fitting backdrop for this event given that the protagonist is a post litteram humanist, a multifaceted thinker and philanthropist, and a pioneer of rational freedom, against the grim dogmatism of power and discrimination.
Text by Agata Gazzillo