subscribe
free e-newsletter free e-newsletter
product info
advertise
FAQ
SUBSCRIBE TODAY
for premium web access
comment

Ai Weiwei: Art and Architecture

By Andres Lepik with essays by Yilmaz Dziewor and Reto Geiser. Kunsthaus Bregenz, October 2011, 150 pages, $65.
August 2013

Reviewed by Andrew Yang

In 2011, the Kunsthaus Bregenz mounted an exhibition of the art and architecture of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. This publication, which documents the show, presents a selection of the artist's architectural projects from 2001 through 2006, when the artist announced the closure of his architectural practice.

Ai Weiwei: Art and Architecture
Ai Weiwei: Art and Architecture, by Andres Lepik with essays by Yilmaz Dziewor and Reto Geiser. Bregenz: Kunsthaus Bregenz, October 2011, 150 pages, $65.
Rate this project:
Based on what you have seen and read about this project, how would you grade it? Use the stars below to indicate your assessment, five stars being the highest rating.
----- Advertising -----

In the last several years, Ai has become a larger-than-life figure for his role as an activist, celebrity, political critic, victim, and all-around Chinese Communist Party irritant.  The exhibition and the essays that accompany it rightfully acknowledge Ai’s role in the social discourse of China, but focus a critical lens on the artist’s work. This body of projects ranges from his early collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron on the Beijing Olympic Stadium to the Jindong New Development Area (an urban planning project that includes a series of pavilions designed by different architects), to a home that Ai designed in upstate New York with the Swiss firm HHF. 

In the essays, Ai comes across as China’s sharpest architecture critic, albeit a bit grumpy. “I don’t like Beijing,” he is quoted as saying. “It is not fit for human inhabitation.” Adding later, “I feel hopeless about architecture in China.” All of this blunt commentary culminates in Ai’s argument for a kind of “ordinary” architecture, one that would have a greater impact on China’s rapidly growing urban landscape than the architectural spectacles favored by developers and corporations. In fact, this argument is the most powerful idea in Ai’s collective work, and shows that his moral compass is aimed in the right direction.

What’s missing from this catalog and the exhibition is an extended dialogue between Ai’s architectural work and the art for which he is most well known (and which I think best displays his brilliance). Some of the projects featured, such as the Caochangdi group of buildings in Beijing and the Tsai residence in upstate New York, are in truth, fairly simple structures. (Ai is even quoted as saying that after the concept phase, he rarely visits the construction site and likes having the construction workers figure out the details of his design.) However, the projects lack a larger significance when they are viewed absent Ai’s trajectory as an artist. 

In an essay, Reto Geiser, the Swiss architect and theorist, attempts to address this in more depth, but doesn’t provide enough physical evidence. Ai’s art has deep roots in Chinese history—regardless of whether it is critical or reverent—and Ai’s evolution derives from the artist’s belief that his own work is constantly reacting to China’s societal formation. His body of work in architecture is impressive, but readers would have a better sense of it if they saw how it fits into his grander vision of art—and of China.

Andrew Yang is a writer who covered architecture while based in Shanghai from 2007 to 2010.

 Reader Comments:

Sign in to Comment

To write a comment about this story, please sign in. If this is your first time commenting on this site, you will be required to fill out a brief registration form. Your public username will be the beginning of the email address that you enter into the form (everything before the @ symbol). Other than that, none of the information that you enter will be publically displayed.

We welcome comments from all points of view. Off-topic or abusive comments, however, will be removed at the editors’ discretion.

----- Advertising -----
View all
Sweets, Search Building Products
Search
Reader Feedback
Most Commented Most Recommended
Rankings reflect comments made in the past 14 days
Rankings reflect comments made in the past 14 days