Following his major retrospective in Miami, the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei will pair with the British sculptor Richard Long to exhibit side by side at the Lisson gallery in May.
Mr Ai positions himself in and out of his Beijing studio as a cultural arbiter. Compelled by a sense of social conscience, his artistic practice extends across many roles, from filmmaker and photographer, to writer, publisher, curator and architect. As an heir to Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, yet digging deep into Chinese heritage, he moves freely between a variety of formal languages, reflecting on contemporary geopolitics. In recycling historical materials, loaded with meaning, such as Han Dynasty vases or wood from destroyed temples, Ai distils ancient and modern aesthetics in works of salvage or iconoclasm. Public commissions, like bringing 1,001 Chinese citizens to the small German town of Kassel for documenta 12 (Fairytale, 2007), or the pouring of hundreds of millions of handmade porcelain seeds into the Tate’s Turbine Hall (Sunflower Seeds, 2010), are audacious gestures that command global attention, but always underlain with humor and compassion. He is one of the leading cultural figures of his generation and consistently displays great courage in placing himself at risk to affect social change through his art. He serves as an example for legitimate social criticism and free expression both in China and internationally.
Richard Long has been in the vanguard of Land art in Britain since he created A Line Made by Walking in 1967, while still a student. This photograph of the trail left by his feet in the grass, a harmonious intervention in the landscape, established a precedent that has given way to trails in regions all over the world. He brings gathered materials into the gallery to make arrangements on the floor – linear patterns or solid circles filled evenly with stones, slate, wood and so on – or paintings applied with mud by hand directly onto the walls; they recreate the experience of a landscape inside, asserting an ongoing relationship to the land that is as redolent of monolithic art as it is of contemporary environmental concerns. This adherence to natural means and working within the capability of the human body sets Long apart from the Land art movement. Long seeks “a balance between the patterns of nature and the formalism of human, abstract ideas like lines and circles. It is where my human characteristics meet the natural forces and patterns of the world, and that is really the kind of subject of my work.” (1991)
New Ai Weiwei and Richard Long Exhibitions Lisson Gallery 23 May – 12 July 2014