An exhibition of major ceramic works by Ai Weiwei, one of the world’s most influential living artists and human rights activists, will debut at the Gardiner Museum on Feb. 28.
Weiwei is known for smashing conventions—and pottery—with iconic pieces like Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995) that upend the cultural traditions and materials of his native China. While his work includes sculpture, installation, photography, film, performance and architecture, ceramics occupies a singular place in his practice.
“Ceramics are fascinating,” says Weiwei. “I love the tradition, how people for generations have tried to make something happen with this basic language of communication besides its practical uses.”
Ai Weiwei: Unbroken will explore the breaking of boundaries, both physical and symbolic, and consider how the artist’s ceramic works form a basis for his ongoing exploration of social justice themes, including immigration and the repression of dissent. Provocative programming developed in collaboration with local partners will draw connections between Weiwei’s formative ceramic works and urgent global issues.
“Ai Weiwei is a powerful ambassador for ceramics, and one of the most important artists of our time” says Kelvin Browne, Gardiner Museum executive director and CEO. “His early works in clay remain as potent today as ever and demonstrate the medium’s ability to address contemporary issues and spark important discussions.”
The exhibition will feature some of Weiwei’s most celebrated works, displayed in Toronto for the first time, including Sunflower Seeds (2010), Han Dynasty Urn with Coca Cola Logo (2015) and Tree (2010), as well as brand-new works.
“I think it’s a mixed society, it’s a kind of energy which can lead to miracles,” says Weiwei, of exhibiting in Toronto. “Through that kind of hybrid and mixing up, then something new can come out, which we don’t exactly know what it is but it’s more colorful, the diversity, inclusiveness, tolerance, and willingness to accept and connect. So those are qualities not only in Toronto, but Canadians often have this kind of quality. I am very impressed about a society which is younger and still has a lot of space to accept new ideas.”
Ai Weiwei: Unbroken will be on display from Feb. 28 to June 9.