Ai Weiwei gifts new major work to National Gallery of Victoria

NGV Ai Weiwei Letgo RoomCommissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) for the exhibition Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei, which has just opened to the public, artist Ai Weiwei has announced he will gift his major new installation Letgo Room, 2015, to the Gallery.

Incorporating more than two million plastic building blocks the work features portraits of twenty Australian activists, advocates and champions of human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of information and freedom of the internet.

Portrait subjects include Julian Assange, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Peter Greste, Professor Gillian Triggs, Rosie Batty, The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, Archie Roach, Julian Burnside AO QC and Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, among others from the fields of international law and academia, social welfare, media, community activism in support of indigenous people, asylum seekers, sex workers and the gender non-specific, among other contexts.

In the past weeks a team of almost 100 local volunteers and arts students constructed the portraits on Ai’s behalf. The work attests to Ai’s long-standing commitment to freedom of expression and human rights, which is variously manifest in his work as an artist, social commentator, activist and public intellectual.

Other commissions include a major new five metre-tall work from Ai’s Chandelier series of crystal and light, based on the form of a Han dynasty lamp, and a spectacular new installation Blossom 2015, a large bed of thousands of delicate, intricately designed white porcelain flowers memorialising the Flowers for Freedom movement which emerged on the internet following Ai’s detention.

The bicycle that stood outside Ai’s Beijing studio for 600 days, signifying his inability to travel, is also displayed for the first time in the exhibition. The installation, titled With Flowers, 2015, which was first placed outside his studio gate on 30 November 2013, had a fresh bouquet of flowers placed in the basket each morning for the benefit of surveillance cameras, until Ai’s passport was returned on 22 July this year. For the exhibition, a fresh bouquet of flowers will be added each day in honour of those whose liberties are still restricted.

Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei also presents over 200 of Warhol’s works in the largest presentation of the artist’s work to come to Melbourne. Many of Warhol’s most celebrated works are featured including paintings and silkscreens such as Campbell’s Soup, Mao, Elvis, Marilyn, Flowers, Electric Chairs, self-and celebrity portraits, and Skulls and Myths series.

The exhibition also features: early drawings and commercial illustrations from the 1950s; sculpture and installation, including Brillo Soap Pads Box, 1964, and Silver Clouds, 1966; films such as Empire, 1964, Blow Job, 1964, Screen Tests, 1965, and the expanded cinema installation Exploding Plastic Inevitable, 1966-67, among others from Warhol’s extensive filmography.

The exhibition also brings together a wide range of photography including more than 500 Polaroids documenting Warhol’s social milieu, alongside music and publishing; and rarely exhibited, and in some cases never-before-seen, photographs and illustrations.

Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei is currently on display at the National Gallery of Victoria until 24 April 2016. The exhibition will subsequently be presented at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh in the United States of America from June – August 2016.

Image: Ai Weiwei in the Letgo Room at the National Gallery of Victoria. Ai Weiwei artwork © Ai Weiwei – photo by John Gollings