When Ai Weiwei was invited to mount a big solo exhibition at the Kunsthaus Bregenz
one and a half years ago, no one could have foreseen the present situation. At the beginning of April 2011 Ai Weiwei was arrested at the Beijing Capital International Airport.
Given the current situation, the museum has often been asked in recent weeks whether the exhibition will take place. In their view, it is more important than ever right now to show Ai Weiweis work, not only because the Kunsthaus Bregenz show concentrates on his architectural projects and hence deals with a hitherto undertreated aspect of his extremely diverse oeuvre, but above all because they are convinced that it is necessary to keep interest in and discussion of this major artists work and his persecution by the Chinese state in the public eye.
Although the Kunsthaus Bregenz exhibition was not planned as a reaction to current events, it is nevertheless important, not least because the works and their spatial layout were selected and conceived by Ai Weiwei himself in close cooperation with the Kunsthaus. From the start, the artist and the museum agreed that not only formal criteria and the cultural positioning of his architecture, but also its social and political significance, should be dealt with, despite the fact that past involvement in the specific Chinese situation, in Chinese societys structural and urban problems, has led to his repeated repression by the Chinese government in the past. Last years demolition of Ai Weiweis studio complex in Shanghai shortly after its completion was a further state attempt to pressurize and intimidate Ai Weiwei. However the artist remained unswervingly critical and filmed the demolition, creating a video work that is part of the Bregenz exhibition.
The KUB exhibition concentrates on Ai Weiweis major architectural projects developed either by him and his studio or in cooperation with other architectural practices. The exhibition begins strategically on the first floor with architectural models, plans, photographs, and video documentations of specific building projects, then, on the next two floors, the concept of architecture becomes progressively more abstract. Alongside Ai Weiweis Shanghai studio, buildings jointly designed with the young Swiss architectural practice HHF are on show on the first floor. A highlight of the architectural collaborations is Ai Weiwei in his capacity as artistic advisor to Herzog & de Meuron for their famous Beijing stadium.
A spectacular new work produced for the exhibition and covering the entire second-story floor space of 500 m2 is on show at the Kunsthaus Bregenz. The works hybrid aesthetic status alone a cross between an architectural model and a free work of art makes it impressive. The work has its roots in the architectural cooperation ORDOS 100 (2008) when Ai Weiwei devised a masterplan for which he invited 100 young architectural practices worldwide to design single-family houses.
Moon Chest, a work that was realized in relation to no specific building, is exhibited in a specially developed arrangement on the topmost floor. Although the work is a classical autonomous sculpture in the tradition of Minimal Art, its elongated rectangular forms instantly remind one of highrise buildings.
Ai Weiwei (born 1957) is a Chinese conceptual artist, sculptor, architect and curator. He has had numerous solo exhibitions, amongst others at the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London (2010), Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland (2010), Stiftung DKM, Duisburg (2010), Mies Van der Rohe Pavillon, Barcelona (2009), Haus der Kunst, Munich (2009), Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2009). He participated in the 48th Venice Biennale, Guangzhou Trienniale 2002 in China, Biennale of Sydney 2006 and documenta 12. For documenta he created the project Fairytale and the outside work Template, which collapsed following a heavy storm. Amongst his most important architectural projects are the Beijing National Stadium for the Summer Olympics 2008 and Ordos 100, both in collaboration with the Swiss architectural office Herzog & de Meuron.