A new gallery show of the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei 2016: Roots and Branches, has opened at Mary Boone Gallery in both its Fifth Avenue and Chelsea locations. The exhibition of recent works includes pieces in a variety of mediums – from ancient wood and porcelain to modern LEGO bricks, and wallpaper of the Artist’s design.
At the Gallery/Uptown (745 Fifth Avenue), a circular field of 40,000 spouts broken from antique Chinese porcelain teapots fills the main room. Wallpaper with a complex design of an arm with an extended middle finger, referencing Ai’s well-known Study of Perspective series of photographs, serves as the backdrop for this installation. Seen in this context, the individual spouts mimic the form of the bent finger, excised and rendered ineffectual.
The Gallery/Downtown (541 West 24 Street), houses the monumental (25 foot high) Tree. Constructed from weathered sections of dead trees that have been brought down from the mountains of Southern China and bolted together in the form of a whole, healthy tree with spreading branches, Tree is a totem that may be seen as a comment on the strength of modern China built from many ancient ethnic groups, or a determined attempt to create something new and vital from what is irrevocably lost.
The show also includes new works composed from plastic LEGO toy bricks. Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn recreates with “pixels” of LEGOs Ai’s iconic triptych of black and white photographs depicting himself in the act of destroying a fragile symbol of China’s past. Self-Portrait, another LEGO work, presents an image of Ai Weiwei that adopts the bright color and repetition of Warhol’s silkscreen portraits.
Each location also includes one of Ai’s works made of ancient reclaimed huali wood. Treasure Box is an enlargement of an intricate puzzle-box of sliding and locking compartments, and Garbage Container, modeled after a bin turned on its side, is an elegy to five homeless boys in Guizhou Province who suffocated in a dumpster while trying to stay warm.
Ai Weiwei is having a concurrent exhibition in New York at Lisson Gallery. The Mary Boone Gallery exhibition is on view at both Gallery locations – 745 Fifth Avenue and 541 West 24 Street – through 23 December 2016.