Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei – A tale of two not so different cities

Ai Weiwei Sydney Opera House 2006 Perspectives seriesThe National Gallery of Victoria’s summer exhibition, Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei spreads across the entire ground floor of the NGV International with a series of challenging and at times confronting works by these two seminal artists.

Each of these instantly recognisable artists feature in this gargantuan display, developed by the NGV in collaboration with the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and with the participation of Ai Weiwei. With over 200 works by the iconic 20th century Renaissance man Andy Warhol, and 120 works by activist, architect, and artist Ai Weiwei, a contemplative conversation between the artists, who never met, unfolds.

Andy Warhol was a key figure in the American Pop Art movement. Using a limited palette and icons of consumer culture, celebrity and media encroachment, and symbols of everyday life Warhol’s work commented on the unfolding changing nature of common day America.

Warhol was a talented illustrator and painter, and is well known for his screenprints, films and New York Factories. Elements of the works created by Warhol would be recognised in decades to come as they were not only borrowed from advertising but became integrated into it.

Ai Weiwei is a contemporary Chinese-born artist whose love of the internet and his blog caused him to be arrested. His social media feeds encapsulate 21st century obsession with “right now” and was evident in the selfies he posted from the openings of the exhibition, as well as audience selfies of their own experiences.

Weiwei is an advocate for human rights, a combination of his political experiences and proposed censorship of his works. While exploring a range of mediums, Weiwei has undertaken projects to illuminate inconsistencies in contemporary society, through relationships with history and authority, human behaviour and consumer culture and identity and the internet.

Both Warhol and Weiwei’s works span a range of each artist’s repertoire, including their books, Warhol’s magazine Interview, each of their screen based works – Warhol’s TV show episodes and infamous Factory Screen Tests, and Weiwei’s music videos and documentaries – sculptures and installations, and new commissions from Weiwei.

With the social media campaign and the donation drop points and museums and galleries around the world, the NGV commission from Weiwei of a new piece made with Lego pieces was awaited with much anticipation. Ai Weiwei’s installation ‘Letgo Room’, which Weiwei has gifted to the NGV, is a cube room, with floor to ceiling portraits and quotes with Australian human rights activists, including Rosie Batty, Jualian Assange, and Archie Roach. This room’s exterior compares Warhol and Weiwei’s Mao portraits, with Warhol Mao wallpaper adorning the walls under the watchful eyes of Weiwei’s portraits of Mao.

The conceptual overlaps and artistic similarities don’t stop with political figures, and continue through each of the spaces that occupy the gallery. Studio Cats combines each of the artists relationships with their cats into an interactive and exciting space for children to explore and create using relevant and up to date technology.

It includes photo booths where children can create photo collages in a Warhol screen print style and a kitty computer station where children can play a game with Weiwei’s cats. It brings the exhibition into the room, with photos of the artists with their cats, illustrations and a theatrette with the film by Hosen Tandijono 258 Cats, about the cats living in leisure at Weiwei’s studio.

The expansive nature of the exhibition means that this is an all day experience – if you plan to do this over an hour you will truly miss out on all this exhibition has to offer. Take the time to enjoy a back catalogue of episodes of Andy Warhol’s TV and Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes, and the innumerable documentaries on both Warhol and Weiwei, including his activism, such as the investigation into the Sichuan earthquake casualties. Often bright and iconoclastic, Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei can be dark and moving, in just the right amount to display the beauty and intelligence of all involved.

Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei
National Gallery of Victoria, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Exhibition continues to 24 April 2016
Entry fees apply

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Ai Weiwei, Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia 2006 from the Study of Perspective series 1995–2011 type C photograph, various dimensions. Ai Weiwei Studio © Ai Weiwei

Review: Jasmin Bardel