Trees from the Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy

Ai Weiwei at The Royal Academy

Between client meetings yesterday I grabbed the chance to check out the new Ai Weiwei exhibition at The Royal Academy. Ai Weiwei became widely known in Britain after his sunflower seeds installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2010 but this is the first major institutional survey of his work in the UK and covers over two decades of his extraordinary career. Curated in collaboration with Ai Weiwei from his studio in Beijing, this exhibition presents some of his most important works from the time he returned to China from the US in 1993 right up to present day including several new site-specific installations. One of the most impactful works is Straight (2008-12) which dominates a full room towards the beginning of the exhibition. Comprising ninety tons of bent and twisted steel rods salvaged from a Sichuan earthquake in 2008, each has been meticulously straightened and laid out to form a rolling landscape as a stark monument to those killed. Another work entitled Souvenir from Shanghai is a selection of reassembled rubble from the artist’s doomed studio, which was demolished just after completion and before he could take up residency. The whole show bristles with Weiwei’s dignified yet unbending opposition to the Chinese State but it is also a poetic and beautiful body of work that warrants repeat visits.

Ai Weiwei at The Royal Academy. Until 13 December