ISTANBUL — In an era where superstar Chinese artist Ai Weiwei feels ubiquitous, this past summer I experienced the full extent of that reality over the course of two months. After attending a New York preview for his new film about migrants, Human Flow (2017), I traveled to Israel to visit a major exhibition of his work at the Israel Museum in West Jerusalem, then a show of his porcelain works at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Istanbul. Shortly after that, I returned to New York City, right around the time his major public art project, Fences, opened. And these weren’t the only exhibitions by Ai being mounted around the world.
Of all the Ai Weiwei events and works I encountered, his Istanbul exhibition was the most intelligent, disturbing, and luxurious. I don’t often connect those three words but they encapsulate the general mood of the exhibition, which includes a massive display of porcelain (an object of luxury) and images of migrants and refugees (including as wallpaper) at a private museum owned by a private university, sustained by a billionaire family that built their fortunes on neoliberal polices in the last few decades. The contradictions are everywhere, but the objects are strangely alluring, from his well-known sunflower seeds, to rows of plates (including one depicting Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian Kurdish boy who died in the Aegean) and vases stacked atop one another to resemble Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column series.
Exploring the rooms of work, you have to wonder how he produces so much; the scale of his imagination feels endless.
Ai Weiwei On Porcelaincontinues at the Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum (Sabancı Cad. No:42 Emirgan 34467 İstanbul) in Istanbul until March 11, 2018.
An exhibition in Tel Aviv is reputedly using works by leading Arab artists without their permission, and the curators say they’re doing so deliberately to provoke a conversation around the topic of boycott.