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Huge art, big success: Nearly 150,000 visitors experienced Ai Weiwei: According to What? at the AGO

November 8th, 2013

Visitors to AGO First Thursdays on Sept. 5, 2013, check out the exhibition.

Ai Weiwei: According to What?, the ground-breaking and critically acclaimed exhibition of large-scale artworks that stopped at the AGO from Aug. 17 to Oct. 27, 2013, drew in 145,407 visitors during its 10-week run and fuelled an undeniable “Ai Weiwei moment” in Toronto. Almost a quarter of the exhibition’s audience was composed of first-time visitors at the AGO, responding to media commentary that According to What? “shouldn’t be missed” (Torontoist) and such praise as “This is what art is supposed to do” (NOW).

Everyone at the Gallery worked to make this exhibition interactive and engaging. We encouraged visitors to take photos and share their thoughts; at the September AGO First Thursdays event, we organized a live video chat between Ai Weiwei and AGO director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum (watch); and, on Aug. 18, 2013, artistic director Gein Wong gathered close to 300 Chinese-speaking community members at the AGO to participate in Say Their Names, Remember, a performance commemorating thousands of children who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that inspired a number of Ai’s works. Ai’s work Snake Ceiling (2009), also a tribute to young victims of the Sichuan earthquake, was installed on the Gallery’s second level in April 2013 and remained in place until this month.

Toronto celebrated Ai Weiwei before and during the exhibition, too. Prior to the opening of Ai Weiwei: According to What? at the Gallery, Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads was installed in front of City Hall in Nathan Phillips Square, with the cooperation of the City of Toronto, and remained on display for almost three months, before Ai’s enormous installation Forever Bicycles (2011) took over the square for Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2013. Toronto artist Sean Martindale‘s Love the Future: Free Ai Weiwei — an eight-foot-tall statue of the artist made from salvaged cardboard — greeted visitors at the entrance of the AGO through the run of the exhibition (learn more about the work here); at First Thursdays on Sept. 5, Martindale had his head shaved and invited others to do the same in solidarity with Ai.

Bringing exhibitions of this calibre to the AGO requires a lot of support, and we’re grateful to Emmanuelle Gattuso and Allan Slaight; the Hal Jackman Foundation; the Delaney Family Foundation; the Donner Canadian Foundation; Partners in Art; Francis and Eleanor Shen; the Globe and Mail; the Canada Council for the Arts; and AW Asia, New York for making it all possible.

Co-organized by the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, and curated by head curator Mami Kataoka, the exhibition’s stop at the AGO was its third on a tour of five North American museums. It will soon be on display at the Miami Perez Art Museum and then the Brooklyn Museum.

Additional thanks go out to PEN Canada for their involvement in this exhibition and for creating this wonderful roundup of #aiwwAGO social media posts by visitors.

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