By K.D. Norris
Two years after giving the West Michigan arts community a beautifully patinaed example of the power of renowned Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei, in the form of the stunning “Iron Tree”, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park will open to the public its long-anticipated exhibition Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State on Friday, Jan. 27.
In total, more than 30 works — including iconic works from the artist’s repertoire and work specific to Meijer Gardens — will be sited in galleries, conservatories, public spaces and the auditorium.
“I am looking forward to the exhibition at Meijer Gardens and to share my work and ideas in this unique place,” Ai Weiwei said in supplied material. “I appreciate that they are so committed to my work; they even acquired Iron Tree in 2015. This opportunity to bring an exhibition to Michigan is something I greatly anticipate.”
The public should also “greatly anticipate” the show as well, according to David S. Hooker, President and CEO of Meijer Gardens — for purely artistic enjoyment as well as intersecting with the artist’s unique political and social esthetic.
“Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is pleased beyond words to host this major exhibition, Ai Weiwei’s first ever in a botanical garden or sculpture park,” Hooker said in supplied material. “It will be an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people to enjoy his vision and boundless creativity … (and his) compelling life story that is told through his art.”
The title of the exhibition — “Natural State” — underscores the relationship between the artist and the venue, according to supplied material, combining the artist’s use of the natural materials in his works, set in the often natural settings of Meijer Gardens, but pushing those natural materials into unique states of being: personal, historical, social, political. Materials such as ceramics, silk, bamboo and wood become symbols of Ai Weiwei’s views on humankind in his native China and around the world.
The exhibition will use four gallery spaces, four indoor conservatories, the auditorium and numerous public areas at Meijer Gardens. And many of the works will be placed not only in the artist’s unique vision but in context to their surroundings, including having five monumental sculptural bodies derived from ancient Chinese mythological text — “Taifeng”, “Dijiang”, “Shuyu”, “Mingshe” and “Shusi” — shown in a “scenic corridor” outside the normal gallery spaces.
“Having worked with Ai Weiwei for many years and in venues across the world, it has been a pleasure to see him focused on the very distinguished and unique circumstances of Meijer Gardens,” Greg Hilty, curatorial director of Lisson Gallery, said in supplied material. “The work carefully selected by the artist and thoughtfully installed at this venue offers a truly memorable experience.”
Lisson Gallery, out of New York City, collaborated with Meijer Gardens on the Ai Weiwei exhibition, as it did with a previous show of the works of Anish Kapoor.
A full list of exhibition activities can be found at www.meijergardens.org/aww
For videos associated with the show, visit Meijer Gardens on YouTube.