Ai Weiwei’s porcelains at Istanbul’s Sakıp Sabancı Museum
The first solo exhibition in Turkey by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, one of the most influential figures of contemporary art, opened on Sept. 12 at Istanbul’s Sakıp Sabancı Museum with the support of Akbank.
Weiwei was present at a press conference held on Sept. 11 for the exhibition, titled “Ai Weiwei on Porcelain.”
“You can see the traces of the past in my works. Why should we understand the past? Because we are in a place between the past and the future,” he said at the meeting.
Weiwei said he grew up in a communist society and lived in New York for 12 years in his 20s.
“When I turned 36, I returned to China. This is why my life is made up of many phases. Now I am 60 years old. When I look at the past, I was totally against tradition. This has nothing to do with modernism. But I realized over time that a society is not only made up of scientific developments but social values are important too,” he added.
Besides porcelains, the exhibition also displays a series of videos, wall papers and photographs.
“As an artist, I have been making documentaries for many years. I used to document my time by taking photos in the 1980s in New York. I did not even know at that time that I would become a well-known artist. But making documentaries helped my name become remembered and respected,” Weiwei said.
His latest documentary highlighting the crisis of refugees, “Human Flow,” was shot in 23 countries and will also be shown in Turkey.
Sakıp Sabancı Museum Director Nazan Ölçer and Akbank Chairman Suzan Sabancı Dinçer said the show is the “most comprehensive exhibition of Weiwei’s work” ever held anywhere in the world.
Over 100 works
The exhibition consists of over 100 works displayed on three floors of the museum and focuses particularly on those made of porcelain.
Over the course of his career, Weiwei has produced works in many media, including video, wallpaper and photography as well as porcelain, and all of these are represented in the exhibition.
“Ai Weiwei on Porcelain” ranges from his first porcelain work produced in 1976 to new pieces produced especially for the Istanbul exhibition, and presents an unequalled opportunity to explore the world of the artist.
The exhibition enables visitors to gain a detailed insight into his art, arranging the works according to concepts including “appropriation,” “reproduction” and “iconoclasm.”
Weiwei references both the Chinese tradition of handcrafts and Western art history in his works and his selection for the Sakıp Sabancı Museum exhibition encompasses examples reflecting this. Porcelain is the focal point of this exhibition, functioning as a door opening onto the fundamental questions that the artist asks about authenticity, the historical transformation of value systems, and the role of art in influencing social change.
Weiwei treats Chinese porcelain as a material infused with meanings relating to both history and the present day, using its traditional form and idiom within topical debates.
Works in the “Ai Weiwei on Porcelain” exhibition represent all the methods that are the defining elements in his porcelain works. Weiwei’s porcelain art is represented by iconic works such as his “Sunflower Seeds” installation, which put him at the forefront of contemporary art debates and made him one of the best known artists of our time.
This installation is an example of how he uses both the connection of porcelain production with history and interpretations of the contemporary state of porcelain as a material.
One of Weiwei’s most iconoclastic works, “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” is an example of the different transformation methods designed to question the artist’s existing value systems.
Meanwhile, his “Blue-and-White Porcelain Plates” and “Stacked Porcelain Vases as a Pillar,” which he has produced especially for the Istanbul exhibition, stimulate ideas about the cyclical structure of history by reflecting the crises of our time in reference to ancient Greek and Egyptian carvings and ceramics.
Art ‘not just an aesthetic activity’
Weiwei sees art not just as an aesthetic activity but also as an opportunity to broach new topical questions. In reacting to events in daily life, he frequently references this uniquely Chinese material. In his works shown at this exhibition the artist reflects on the subject of history in the light of surviving fragments of antiques, and presents a comprehensive view of the contemporary world.
Throughout the “Ai Weiwei on Porcelain” show, a program of workshops, children’s educational sessions, lectures and panels will take an in-depth look at Weiwei’s art.
The first of these activities consists of a talk by the artist and a conversation about his art production methods with Sir Norman Rosenthal, former director of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, on Sept. 13 at 6 p.m.
A catalogue whose contributors are Rosenthal, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Stacey Pierson will be published and will accompany the exhibition.
As well as the artist’s own work, the catalogue will examine the tradition of Chinese handcrafts on which he draws, and will be a comprehensive source for Ai Weiwei’s work.
The exhibition, curated by the artist himself, will remain open until Jan. 28 at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum.