"Ai Weiwei - Evidence", which sprawls across 18 rooms at the
Martin-Gropius-Bau museum, is a deeply political exhibition of
the artist's conceptual art. It opens on Thursday, exactly three
years after he was arrested and held in detention.
A white bedroom with foam-covered walls and surveillance cameras
reproduces his prison cell.
An outspoken critic of the Chinese government's record on free
speech and human rights, Ai did not attend the show's news
conference as the government retained his passport after his
"I may have a chance to come to the show, I hope this can be
possible, but I don't know," the bearded artist said via video
China's Foreign Ministry said Ai was being investigated by law
"The relevant person, because he is suspected of economic
crimes, is being investigated in accordance with the law,"
ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. "No Chinese citizen is above
Ai's detention prompted an international outcry and Germany was
among those countries that have asked for his release.
"Germany is a place that gives me a lot of support," said Ai,
who was awarded a professorship in absentia at Berlin's
University of the Arts in 2011.
German curator Gereon Sievernich, who visited the artist in his
studio on the outskirts of Beijing, said Ai created several
installations specifically for the show.
"He says he wants to prove the truth," Sievernich said, in a
reference to the exhibition's title "Evidence".
Ai's public comments, activities and art flagrantly defy China's
strict controls on the Internet and traditional media.
[to top of second column]
The Berlin show, which runs until July 7, deals with Ai's
detention but also with modernization in China and its perils.
In one of the most striking installations, 6,000 wooden stools
gathered from villages across northern China from past centuries are
packed into the neo-classical atrium.
They all share the same design but some are painted green, red and
yellow, others have narrow seats. Each is unique.
"These stools represent a piece of individuality," Sievernich said,
comparing them with mass-manufactured plastic stools. "Today they
are vestiges of history."
Other works reflect on traditional handicrafts, history and
modernity but are more playful and inspired by Ai's admiration of
the Dadaist and conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp's readymades.
In one work particularly appropriate for car-crazy Germany, Han
Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD) vases are covered in metallic paint in the
same colors as those used on Mercedes and BMW automobiles.
"Each vase is no longer recognizable as an ancient artifact, yet
beneath the thin outer layer the history and complexity of the
original remain intact," reads the accompanying text.
Ai's career has spanned protests for artistic freedom in 1979,
provocative works in the 1990s, and a hand in designing the Bird's
Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as well as creating
"Sunflower Seeds," a London-based exhibition comprised of 100
million hand-painted porcelain seeds.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing;
Michael Roddy, Sonya Hepinstall and Clarence Fernandez)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.