Review: Ai Weiwei, Royal Academy of Arts

Review: Ai Weiwei, Royal Academy of Arts

Anna Tomlinson reviews the Chinese artist’s much-anticipated exhibition.

After hearing so much about the opening of the Ai Weiwei exhibition, and the many 5-star reviews it has received,  I walked into the exhibition with high expectations. And, everyone’s right, it is really worth a visit.

The Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy is exceptional; the pieces are considerable in their sheer size and meaning. The exhibition questions the value we place on objects, and how they relate to our lives and to self-expression. His work asks us to consider how we interact with the past, as well as how we interact with authority. Weiwei’s exhibition is thought-provoking throughout, and his questions remain with you long after leaving the Royal Academy.

Weiwei co-curated the exhibition from his studio in Beijing. It includes works spanning his career from 1993 to present, with many of the works specifically created for the Royal Academy, including the trees you encounter in the courtyard as you walk into the Academy.  The installation, Tree, was brought to London through a Kickstarter campaign, with 1,319 backers raising £123,577. The installation is therefore public in almost every sense; it is accessible to everyone walking past the Royal Academy, and was brought to the city by the public. It sets the tone for the exhibition as a whole, in which Weiwei involves us in, rather than just showing us, his works.

The exhibition is directed by an audio-guide, with many clips in which Weiwei himself speaks about his works and his curation. It seems like he’s speaking to you directly, explaining his motivations and story.

Weiwei is a great artist, both conceptually and in the way in which he carries out his works. This is more than clear throughout the exhibition. He interacts with contemporary art and at the same time comments on Chinese politics; he creates controversial works which allow him to act as a spokesperson for the Chinese people. Yet, his works remain accessible to all of us walking through the exhibition.

The exhibition definitely deserves the hype that surrounds it. It is challenging and provocative, and through that, he invites us to join in his activism.

Featured Image: Harry Pearce, Royal Academy


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