Starting in June 2017, The Israel Museum will begin exhibiting the work of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. The exhibition, titled “Ai Weiwei: One and the Multitude” will feature four works by the artist, including “Sunflower Seeds,” (2010) a work comprising millions of handcrafted and hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds that many have interpreted to be a reflection on individuality in an age of mass production. The exhibition also includes “Trees” (2010) and Weiwei’s recent, related work, “Iron Tree” (2016). Whereas “Trees” is a sculptural work composed of dead branches, roots and trunks from southern China all reassembled into a sort of Frankensteinian approximation of a living tree, “Iron Tree,” while visually similar, uses iron casts of dead tree parts and is conspicuously held together by large screws and nuts. In addition to the four large works, the exhibition will include a number of complementary, yet to be determined, Ai Weiwei pieces.
This is not the first Israeli Ai Weiwei exhibition to be announced recently, but it may be the first to actually come to fruition. Back in 2015, Weiwei was set to participate in a joint exhibition with Israeli artist Miki Kratsman at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, but a series of delays ended up pushing the opening date well into 2016 – eventually the exhibition was called off altogether. Krastman alleged that the controversial nature of his proposed exhibit, his portraits of Palestinians, caused the Museum to censor and cancel the work (he did not think Weiwei’s presence was in any way responsible for the cancellation) – museum representatives flatly denied the accusation.
Despite the Tel Aviv cancellation, Weiwei has recently been in Israel and Palestine, filming a documentary about refugees around the world. In an interview with Haaretz about the documentary earlier this year, the artist said of Gaza, rather optimistically, that “People say it’s dangerous. I don’t think it’s dangerous, I think the only danger in life is when we shut ourselves off. We start not to look at the others. There is no other danger.”
In a time when many artists around the world are boycotting Israel, Ai Weiwei has shown an admirable willingness to explore the nation and exhibit his work. While the press release for the 2017 exhibit at the Israel Museum draws a number of comparisons between Weiwei’s native Chinese culture and Israeli culture, some of the comparisons, particularly those regarding Weiwei’s dissident status and the recent ramp-up in anti flag burning laws and artist Natali Cohen Vaxberg’s related indictment, might be less favorable. In any event, it is an exciting announcement and the coming together of four of Ai Weiwei’s monumental works is always noteworthy, regardless of the location.
This story "Israel Museum to Host Exhibition by Chinese Dissident Artist Ai Weiwei" was written by Jake Romm.