Reviewing Ai Weiwei's First Major Exhibition in Greece

Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei | ©Alfred Weidinger/Flickr
Ethel Dilouambaka

Born in 1957 in Beijing, Ai Weiwei, a prolific artist and social activist, is a major cultural figure of our time. Loved and hated by many, he is certainly an outspoken and influential artist who cares ‘more about human conditions rather than the opinions.’ Called by the desire to do something concerning the refugee crisis Greece has known for more than a year now, he set up an atelier on the island of Lesbos and helped in the best way he knows how; by raising awareness through art. His first Greek exhibition is hosted at the Museum of Cycladic Art and 10% of all the proceeds will be redirected to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and METAction, two NGOs currently working on the island.
Ai Weiwei hardly needs an introduction. Son of Ai Qing, he spent his childhood in exile in the western provinces of his home country. He eventually returned to Beijing in 1976 after Mao Zedong’s death. In 1983, he moved to New York – a major turning point in his career – where he discovered photography and conceptual art. He then returned and settled in Beijing in 1993.

‘Grapes’ by Ai Weiwei

As a fervent advocate for democratic and human rights in China, he was arrested and imprisoned for 81 days without charge in 2011. But China’s enfant terrible didn’t let this knock him out of the artistic world and he managed to handle his activities remotely. After regaining his right to travel after the authorities returned his passport, he began his collaboration with the Greek museum that led to this exhibition.

Featuring 25 artworks, the exhibition shows Weiwei far from being a one-trick pony and include some of his most iconic works; including ‘Grapes’ (2011), ‘Mask’ (2011), ‘Divina Proportione’ (2012) and ‘Cao’ (2014). It also features his ‘Study of Perspective’ (2014), a photographic series spanning from 1995-2011 depicting Weiwei flipping his middle finger to important landmarks. In addition, Weiwei also created ‘Standing Figure’ (2016), a full-scale marble sculpture inspired by the museum’s collection.

‘Standing Figure’ by Ai Weiwei

The exhibition is the perfect introduction to Weiwei’s work for the Greek public. It brilliantly shows his talents, showcasing him as an artist, an activist, an historian… The exhibition is complemented by a small photo exhibition from several members of the Photographic Society of Mytilene, whose poignant images depict the journey made by refugees and migrants.

Just as exhibition curator Michael Frahm put it, ‘Ai’s work often looks to the past for its inspiration […] This is why the Museum of Cycladic Art is the ideal location for his first exhibition in Greece. Their historic and important collection speaks to his appreciation of the past and his hope for the future.’

All in all, you won’t regret visiting the exhibition and, while you are there, make sure to visit the museum’s permanent collections.

‘Cao’ / Marble field of grass by Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei at the Museum of Cycladic Art, 20 May – 30 October
Museum of Cycladic Art, Neofytou Douka 4, Athens, Greece, +30 210 722 8321

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