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Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State


When I saw my first Ai Weiwei exhibition, I spent so much time with the works that my hours just evaporated, causing me to almost miss my boat off Alcatraz in San Francisco. 

But the truth is that we have never had an artist like Ai in my lifetime who could delve into so many different human rights abuses and still empty a complex set of mediums to convey deeply rooted meanings that could be shared across the world. That was what moved me about  “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz,” held on the island of Alcatraz.

Ai was born in Beijing and spent his childhood in forced exile before moving to the United States in 1981. Over the next 12 years, he would meet many of the art stars (like Andy Warhol) of this era, many of whom were holdovers from the pop movement who so clearly influenced his early works. He would return to China in 1993 to tend to his ailing father in Beijing.

How Ai differs from most artists is that he is an architect, author and a human rights activist who is not afraid to harness his art to speak truth to power and often against the Chinese government for its dismal record of human rights violations. In 2011, when he was arrested, he posted personal and medical x-rays of his abuse at the hands of his government that led to worldwide official and public protest.

Now, Ai’s powerful work, which includes sculpture, photographs, ceramics, and installations, is coming to Grand Rapids. “Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State” opens Friday, Jan. 27 and runs through Aug. 20.

“It has been an extraordinary experience to work with Ai Weiwei on this highly unique exhibition, as he has been extremely involved in every level of decision making and detail,” states Joseph Antenucci Becherer, Chief Curator and Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections at Meijer Gardens. “With more than 30 works installed across galleries, conservatories and public spaces, this fascinating and thought-provoking collection of works is quite unlike any exhibition Meijer Gardens has ever mounted.”   

Needless to say, this exhibition is one I have been waiting to arrive in our region for nearly a year and is a reminder of the power of art to transform not only us but also the world we live in today. 

Meijer Gardens in 2015 added Ai’s the Iron Tree, which is a rare work of art and was purchased to commemorate our botanical and sculpture garden’s 20th anniversary.

Do not miss this show by one of the world’s greatest living artist. Ai has an impressive and prolific Instagram and Twitter, where he showcases much of his past year’s work supporting the refugee humanitarian efforts in Greece.

Ai Weiwei is part of a new generation of artists not afraid to lend their voices but also their bodies in advancing the justice so many deserve on this planet.

Admission is free for members or with each paid admission. For more information, please go here.  
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