Ai Weiwei


Ai WeiWei, Bubble, 2008, porcelain. Installation view, Watson Island, Miami, 2008.

Beijing-based artist Ai Weiwei has exhibited widely around the world and is a leading architectural designer, curator, and cultural critic in China. In conjunction with Art Basel Miami Beach, he is presenting two new outdoor installations, which mark his first ventures into making work at an art fair.

I’M DOING TWO PROJECTS for this fair. The first is a large cube made of chandeliers. It took 170,000 amber-colored beads to put it together. It looks like a Minimal cube and brings to mind the work of Donald Judd or Dan Flavin. The other work, Bubble, 2008, comprises one hundred high-quality blue porcelain bubbles spread over an area of nearly two thousand feet. These are each about nineteen inches tall and measure nearly twenty-seven inches each on the diagonal. They are installed nine feet apart from one another. The work is outdoors on Watson Island as part of the Island Gardens development near the shore; it reflects the weather and the waterfront.

It took nearly two years to make Bubble and to experiment with the material properties of porcelain. It was very difficult to get everything right, including the shade and the glaze of each piece. I wasn’t sure what it would look like and it really surprised me that it worked out so well. I really love the idea of making work outside; normally, art fairs are just for the galleries and collectors, but these pieces are part of the urban environment. Many families and children, who perhaps don’t look at much art, are surprised by it. It’s a joy to see that they are playing with it in a hands-on way.

In the classical sense, porcelain in China is the highest art form, and it belongs to the imperial court. In fact, it’s almost synonymous with Chinese culture. My work has always focused on how to bring older craftsmanship into a contemporary context and how to create or to use a new language. At the same time, I try to reinterpret artifacts from Chinese traditions and manipulate items from the country’s everyday modern culture. This has many layers of meaning, but in the end, the appearance of the work is the most important aspect. The appearance can, of course, be very misleading or fake, and yet the work always has to be attractive. But it also has to be natural, and people need to feel naturally attracted by it. Bubble, for example, is startling: It reflects the city far across the water and the sky. It seems to have its own life; it changes color constantly.

Bubble might provoke a dialogue about glamour and wealth in today’s society and about what is happening in China. The Olympics––even though the media and the world received the event very well––was the saddest thing that has happened in contemporary Chinese history. It was a huge performance by a propaganda machine and it had nothing to do with China or democracy. Now that the Olympics are over and the world is facing multiple economic problems, I think some people in China are still pretending that nothing is happening. But there is a heightened feeling of crisis all over. There are so many problems and many protests and uprisings. The judicial system is not working. There is a broad gap in Chinese society and it’s really dangerous.

— As told to Lauren O'Neill-Butler