“Everything is art. Everything is politics”: with these words, the internationally acclaimed contemporary artist Ai Weiwei encapsulates the basic principle of his working approach. This motto is also the leitmotif of his largest exhibition in Europe to date, which will be on view simultaneously at the K20 and the K21 of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen.
Largescale works and extensive image wallpaper from the past 10 years transform the museum galleries into dense, accessible installations in which the contradictions of our time become palpable. In interplay with early works created since circa 1980, they underscore the intimate interrelationship between political engagement and artistic activity in the œuvre of this important and disputatious artist. The focus at the K21 is on works on the theme of migration as a global humanitarian crisis: “Laundromat” (2016) consists of articles of clothing abandoned by the former residents of a refugee camp at Idomeni and then collected, cleaned, and mended by Ai Weiwei. “Life Cycle” (2018), a monumental boat with more than 100 over-life-sized bamboo figures, is a haunting evocation of the life-threatening passage of so many refugees across the Mediterranean. Seen for the first time together in an exhibition and in their complete forms in the large exhibition halls of the K20 are the two pivotal works: “Straight” (2008 – 2012) and “Sunflower Seeds” (2010).
Ai Weiwei, who was born in Beijing in 1957, has been acclaimed worldwide as an artist, architect, curator, film director, and photographer. The son of the famous poet Ai Qing, he grew up during his father’s exile in northern China, and returned to Beijing with his family in 1976. The impressions of Conceptual and Pop Art gathered during his time in New York in the 1980s proved fruitful for his working approach, based on a critical examination of cultural history and societal developments in China as well as globally.