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It was going to be the last weekend where we had a chance to see the incredible exhibition of ‘Andy Warhol & Ai Weiwei’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne – Australia. Training it – into the city of Melbourne was easy and making our way to the Gallery on foot from Flinders Street Railway Station, was a good stretch for the legs! Once we were into the Gallery itself, it was clear that this was a very big event. There were many, many people there, and it felt like the whole of Melbourne had the same idea as my husband and I – to see this exhibition before the end of this weekend!.
We had decided it would be best to take part in the ‘Voluntary Guide Tour’ which commented at 11.30am and was free. Luckily for us, we were able to obtain the very last sets of audio listening devices, so that we were able to listen to the ‘Volunteer Tour Guide’ clearly during the whole of the tour, which took approximately one and a half hours. It was very informative, and helped both my husband and I understand these artists and their work more fully, in what was such a small amount of time to do so.
Viewing the artwork of both these world-renowned artists Ai Weiwei – Chinese born 1957 and Andy Warhol – American born 1928 and died 1987 – helped me gain a clearer understanding about what drove these two men to be so creatively prolific in their work as artists; what made them distinctive in their field of artistic expertise.
Within the ANDY-WARHOL-AI-WEIWEI-EXHIBITION-GUIDE PDF it stated the following details about Andy and Ai:
Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei explores the influence of two of the most consequential artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries on modern art and contemporary life, focusing on the parallels and intersections between their practices. Surveying the scope of both artists’ careers, the exhibition presents more than 300 works, including major new commissions, immersive installations and a wide representation of painting, sculpture, film, photography, publishing and social media.
Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei have each redefined the identity and role of the artist in society. Parallels also exist between the ways in which both artists have transformed our understanding of studio production and artistic value. Both are also renowned for their engagement with media and communications, and for the cultivation of celebrity and their own persona, in order to speak to social contexts beyond the world of art.
There was so much to see at this exhibition, and so much to understand and appreciate that it would be impossible for me to cover all here within this blog. I am just going to cover a very small amount of stand outs for me, and hope that you as a reader, will some day have the same opportunity as I have had, to view such a vast sum of work done by these extraordinary artists. I really could have spent days and days there, it was just that amazingly comprehensive. NB: For detailed written information about each of the works of art – please click on link to the National Gallery of Victoria’s AndyWarhol_AiWeiwei_Labels.
ANDY WARHOL’S SELF-PORTRAIT 1986
I particularly liked Andy Warhol’s self-portraits and the insight it gave me about the artist himself. Being a lover of colour and form myself, I naturally found myself drawn to his silkscreen ink on linen art work.
The National Gallery of Victoria’s artwork labels for his portraits read –
It is perhaps surprising, in view of his self-consciousness and fondness for the anonymity of silkscreen printing, that Warhol produced many self-portraits over a twenty-year period. In Self-Portrait No. 9 his gaunt, disembodied image floats against a starry black background, partially concealed by a fluorescent camouflage pattern – an eloquent reflection on the nature of fame and privacy in an age of mass media. Produced only months before Warhol’s death from surgical complications, this haunting self-portrait is sometimes interpreted as a postmodern death mask.
Nine months before his untimely death due to complications after gall bladder surgery, Warhol undertook a large series of iconic self-portrait paintings. Many viewers and critics alike regard these gaunt staring faces as memento mori, or reminders of human mortality. Each work centres on a levitating head surrounded by a halo of spiky hair. Monumental in scale, the works have a melancholic, haunting quality created in part by the use of dark tones and a dense black ground, and in part by variations across the series in the ghost-like negative photographic reproduction.
In today’s galleries, there is the inclusion of labels that have been written ‘for kids’! I find myself drawn to them as an adult as they offer a simplistic narrative which allows me to gain further information that is sometimes not included in the adult version. The information is more generalised and I find it just as interesting!
The National Gallery of Victoria’s artwork label for kids about Andy Warhol’s portraits read as following:
This is one of many self-portraits Andy created during the 1980’s. Andy, always wearing his white wig, stood out from the crowd in New York City. It was his permanent look and he was never seen without it. Andy is also famous for breaking the art tradition of painting a portrait with brushes and paints; instead, he used a commercial printing technique called silkscreen-printing. This technique meant he could produce many pictures in a short period of time – sometimes eighty in one day. Did you know Andy’s cats used to curl up and sleep in his drawer full of wigs?
ANDY WARHOL’S CAMPBELL’S SOUP 11: NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER, HOTDOG BEAN, TOMATO-BEEF NOODLE O’S OYSTER STEW, CHICKEN’N DUMPLINGS AND CAMPBELL’S SOUP 11 SERIES 1969 – COLOUR SILKSCREEN ON PAPER
It was interesting, to at last – see up front and in person, these most famous images, images of ordinary, everyday items of tinned food. The National Gallery of Victoria – Volunteer Guide informed us that it was said that Andy Warhol had one can of soup each day for a number of decades!
The National Gallery of Victoria’s Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup 11 artwork labels read –
Warhol’s paintings of Campbell’s Soup Cans were first exhibited at the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles, in 1962, and he returned to the subject repeatedly throughout his career. The works’ ready-made commercial imagery, mechanical manufacture and serial production ran counter to prevailing artistic tendencies, offering a comment on notions of artistic originality, uniqueness and authenticity. The familiar red-and-white label of a Campbell’s Soup can was immediately recognisable to most Americans, regardless of their social or economic status, and eating Campbell’s Soup was a widely shared experience. This quintessential American product represented modern ideals: it was inexpensive, easily prepared and available in any supermarket.
AI WEIWEI’S DROPPING A HAN DYNASTY URN 2015
Ai Weiwei’s photographic triptych – Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn was intriguing. Not just because of the story on the labels as shown below but because of the sheer size of the works and the amazing detailing. It is not until you come up close do you realise that the photographic pixelation has been created by actual Lego like plastic pieces put together to create these amazing three images. I kept thinking about the amount of time and energy it would have taken to create such a work; about the skill it would have taken to master the pixelated form using the Lego like plastic pieces.
The National Gallery of Victoria’s Ai Weiwei’s dropping Han Dynasty Urn artwork labels read –
Ai’s photographic triptych Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995, which shows the artist holding, releasing and smashing a Han dynasty vase, is one of the artist’s most iconic works and demonstrates his critical engagement with China’s violent cultural heritage, the artist’s performative action is presented matter-of-factly, with the viewer left to contemplate the event and what might be salvaged from the destruction. Ai has recreated the image here in children’s building blocks, in pixelated form, attesting to the distribution of images by digital technologies.
The National Gallery of Victoria’s Ai Weiwei’s dropping Han Dynasty Urn artwork label for kids read as following:
Have you ever accidentally broken a vase at home? In these three photographs we see Weiwei dropping an urn on purpose! This urn is an ancient cultural relic and is very valuable; however, in ancient China these urns were not precious. They were produced quite cheaply and in large quantities to be placed in tombs. By destroying the urn, Weiwei makes us question how we think about the past, and about the importance of ancient objects in our lives today.
AI WEIWEI’S BICYCLE BASKET WITH FLOWERS & WITH FLOWERS PROJECT
Being a lover of flowers and colour it wasn’t hard for me to be drawn to this installation art work of Ai Weiwei and after reading its background story I found it even more engaging and profound. The way Ai Weiwei found a non violent way to strongly express his political stance and engage the rest of the world – was pure genius I feel.
The National Gallery of Victoria’s Ai Weiwei’s Bicycle Basket of Flowers and with Flowers Project in Porcelain artwork labels read –
In 2011 Ai was detained by Chinese authorities for eighty-one days without being charged. Upon his release, Ai’s passport was revoked and his studio placed under constant surveillance. With Flowers saw the artist place a fresh bunch of flowers in the basket of a bicycle outside his studio on a daily basis in a poetic protest against restriction on his right to travel. Images of the flowers were posted to Ai’s social media feeds, and an internet movement called Flowers for Freedom emerged. The project concluded upon the return of Ai’s passport in July 2015.
In late 2015, in response to the confiscation of his passport by Chinese authorities in 2011, Ai tweeted: ‘Since Nov. 30, 2013, every morning I am putting a bouquet of flowers in the basket of a bicycle outside the front door of the No. 258 Caochangdi studio until I win back the right to travel’. Ai documented the flowers on his website and social media on a daily basis. The project concluded on 23 July 2015 following the return of the artist’s passport a day earlier. Here Ai memorialises the With Flowers project in porcelain, traditionally the most revered of Chinese artistic mediums.
ANDY WAHOL’S FLOWERS 1970 COLOUR SILKSCREENS ON PAPER
It was Andy Wahol’s Flowers 1970 Silkscreens on paper that I loved the most and if you know my own artwork, it wouldn’t be hard to know why as I do love colour. The brightly coloured flowers bouncing off the walls of the gallery was like ‘honey to a bee’ for me and I also do like artwork that can be viewed as a series of images.
The National Gallery of Victoria’s Andy Wahol’s Flowers 1970 artwork labels read –
Experimenting with decoration – one of modernist painting’s most controversial subjects – Warhol’s Flowers prints were exhibited in tight grids at his first show at Leo Castelli Gallery, New York city, in 1964. A subsequent series was exhibited in Paris, where more than 100 works were hung almost edge to edge, mimicking the decorative effect of wallpaper. The source photograph, taken by Patricia Caulfield, appeared in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography magazine. Caulfield sued to maintain ownership of the image, and while the suit was settled out of court, the issues of authorship and copyright it raised remain relevant to contemporary art debates.
The National Gallery of Victoria’s Andy Wahol’s Flowers 1970 artwork label for kids read as following:
In the mid 1960s Andy began producing his flowers series. For his first exhibition he filled a gallery with almost thirty silkscreen prints. To make the works of art he began with a magazine photograph of hibiscus flowers. He cut out the image, increased its size and turned it into a print. The pictures show the same arrangement of flowers but are printed in many different colour combinations. Andy often asked his friends for ideas. For his flowers series he asked them to tell him their favourite colours.
AI WEIWEI’S – MAO 1985 OIL ON CANVAS
Ai Weiwei’s political statements conveyed through his artwork offers an insight into his life and also the lives of those whom live within his homeland of China. It helps Westerners better appreciate the importance of free speech and the value of art being a vehicle to inform others about repressive societies. His artwork leaves us more informed so that we cannot say we don’t know or understand, so that we can not turn a ‘blind eye’ to injustices.
The National Gallery of Victoria’s Ai Weiwei’s – Mao Triple Portraits artwork reads –
Ai’s triple portrait of Mao subjects the Chinese leader to distortions gleaned from the Western avant-garde movements of Pop, Expressionism and Dada. As John J. Curley has observed: ‘The stoical and symmetrical official portrait of Mao was part of Ai’s everyday visual culture in China, and due to personal circumstance, he understood the violence, censorship and oppression hidden behind the facade. He renders the leader as a caricature, critiquing the legacy of Mao through the combination of a belittling Pop rendition and the violent signs of an aesthetic struggle. Mao’s power over the people, at least in these canvases, does not extend to Ai’.
WEIWEI’S LETGO ROOM 2015 PLASTIC
Ai Weiwei has given this particular installation a very clever title ‘Letgo’ Room when you take into account that LEGO the company, declined to supply Ai with what was required to complete this art work. Too bad – because it is really amazing and for me – strongly advertisers LEGO’s lack of foresight but in turn Ai Weiwei’s installation becomes a very effective way of pushing his thoughts and ideas to the forefront of the viewer, especially around his ‘exploration of copy and fake’! What I really loved about this work was that you entered into a cave like experience, but very brightly lit. The whole enclosure is covered from top to bottom and all over the walls with Lego like plastic and the fact that you could stand on it as well – almost seemed wrong but great at the same time!
The National Gallery of Victoria’s artwork labels for Ai Weiwei’s Letgo Room reads –
Composed of more than three million plastic building blocks, Ai Weiwei’s Letgo Room is a new installation featuring portraits of Australian activists and champions of human rights and freedom of speech. Ai has chosen people who represent grassroots community activism and advocacy within the fields of international law and academia, social welfare and the rights of Indigenous people, asylum seekers, sex workers and the gender non-specific, among other cultural contexts. Each subject was asked to provide a one-line statement reflecting their philosophy and views to accompany his or her portrait.
The work attests to Ai’s longstanding commitment to liberty, manifested in his work as an artist, social commentator, activist and public intellectual. Letgo Room was intended to be constructed from LEGO blocks; however, the LEGO company declined to provide a bulk order of their product due to the purported ‘political’ nature of the proposed work. Instead, the installation is composed of building blocks manufactured in China, continuing the artist’s exploration of copy and fake.
Ai Weiwei’s Letgo room subjects consisted of Hana Assafiri, Juian Assange, Rosie Batty, Julian Burnside AO QC, Dr Gary Foley, Peter Greste, Abel Guteeres, Stephen Hagan, Jill Jolliffe, Debbie Kiroy OAM, The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG, The Hon. Jean McLean, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, norrie mAy-welby, Professor Dianne Otto, Cheryl Overs, Archie Roach, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Dr Tim Souphommasane, Professor and Gillian Triggs. NB: If you would like to know more about these people – please refer to the National Victoria Gallery’s AndyWarhol_AiWeiwei_Labels.PDF
AI WEIWEI’S – CIRCLE OF ANIMALS (IN GOLD) 2010 GILT-BRONZE
Ai Weiwei’s beautiful twelve zodiac golden animal heads glowed in the darken part of the National Gallery of Victoria which draws in you to have a closer look to investigate what are these beautiful creatures. Ai is constantly asking the viewer of his artworks to think, examine preconceived ideas and thoughts that the viewer may have and to walk away with a new perspective – I really like his thinking!
The National Gallery of Victoria’s artwork labels for Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals reads –
Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals is based on twelve zodiac animal heads which functioned as a water clock-fountain in European-style gardens of Yuanmingyuan palace, Beijing, designed in the eighteenth century by two European Jesuits for the Qing dynasty Emperor Qianlong. In 1860 Yuanmingyuan was ransacked by French and British troops and the heads were pillaged. In reinterpreting these objects, Ai focuses attention on the ethics of looting and repatriation, the role of the fake and the copy and power relations between China and the West.
The National Gallery of Victoria’s Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals artwork label for kids read as following:
China’s Qianlong Emperor, who reigned from 1735 to 1796, once had a set of Zodiac animal statues just like these created for the gardens of his magnificent Yuanmingyuan palace. Those statues were stolen, but Weiwei has created this new set which look exactly like them. The Chinese Zodiac calendar is a twelve-year-long repeating cycle in which each year relates to a particular animal. These include the dragon, the rat and the ox. Ask an adult to look up which year of the Zodiac calendar you were born in. Who knows – you might be a tiger!
Well – this exhibition was just so big and as I stated earlier, I could have, should have stayed for days and truly immersed myself in the worlds of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei. After visiting the gallery and after writing this blog, I feel even more enthused about getting to know the art world more fully. Art for therapy for sure…now for another coffee!
Whilst you are here – please check out my home page! Post-traumatic Growth – My Art & Creative Writing Journey – Written by Karen Robinson