If I ever have a spare hour to kill in London, I step off at Trafalgar Square, through the doors of the National Gallery and straight to the 18th-20th century paintings. I never tire of it. What's more, I feel so grateful to be living in a country where such incredible artwork is available for public viewing, for our total consumption, actively encouraging individual opinion and uninhibited discussion. For me, art should move you in some way. It should resonate an emotion within you to make you think, positively or negatively, whether beautiful or grotesque. I want art to strike a chord in me.
So, this time, I decided to give Claude and Vincent a break! Instead, I headed out to the Ai Wei Wei exhibition at The Royal Academy and boy, did it pack a punch!
Ai Wei Wei is known for challenging the political status in China, mostly through his artistic practice. HIs outspoken criticism of the Chinese government and his perpetual campaigning for a greater respect for human rights and freedom of speech has led to his imprisonment, torture, hospitalisation and denied right to travel.
A huge installation piece to represent the substandard building materials used in schools and other government buildings, leading to an unimaginable death toll during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake is the first to strike a deep sense of discord.
I found the brightly coloured ceramic pots intriguing. These are ancient vessels that he has covered in brightly coloured modern paint. Paint on ceramic ware is enough to turn most potters pale, but here he is talking money, not clay. He asks the question whether an ancient piece becomes even more (or less) valuable if it undergoes a modern transformation, like an artistic 'face lift', creating a new piece to undergo appraisal in its own right. And who decides?
There is a sense of destruction within his work (either through government influence or through his personal delivery) that then allows him to literally pick up the pieces and form something new to communicate his message.
I cannot begin to understand this man's life and I am not educated well enough in Chinese history to cast an opinion from a balanced viewpoint. His work does, however, create a strong impression of injustice and censorship. However, he also displays a feeling of deep responsibility to showcase his love and appreciation of Chinese traditional craftsmanship (such as his work with porcelain and marble).
Overall, for me, this exhibition offers a glimpse into a society and political system that I have no direct experience of. I did not feel this is a propaganda mission to drum up support for a rival but rather it is his attempt to expose and speak out.
EIther way, I came away with a huge sense of gratitude that we live in a society that allows a freedom to express through art, without fear or intimidation. I think I'll take a minute next time I am standing in the National Gallery, in the presence of the paintings I love so much, and just remember how lucky we really are.