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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.

Stand by Ai Weiwei at First Thursdays in Solidarity Buzz: Shaving for Free Expression

August 23rd, 2013

Photo of Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, 2010, Photo credit: Gao Yuan


Sean Martindale
Solidarity Buzz: Shaving for Free Expression
at AGO First Thursdays
September 5, 2013
7 to 11:30 p.m.

Join in a performance by artist Sean Martindale and friends by getting a free buzz cut in solidarity with Ai Weiwei and others around the world similarly persecuted for their political views and public expression. In 2009, after sustaining a cerebral hemorrhage as the result of police brutality in China, Ai had to have his hair shaved off for the emergency brain surgery in Munich that saved his life. Ai’s head was shaved again for his unwarranted detainment by Chinese authorities in 2011. Although not a ubiquitous practice, this removal of hair is frequently part of the unjust authoritarian processing of prisoners of all kinds.

We’re looking for 12 volunteers to sign up and get their heads shaved as part of the performance, during which Martindale will also have his current shoulder-length hair buzzed off. Participants will have the option of getting pre- and post–buzz cut photo portraits shot as documentation of these gestures of solidarity to be shared both on the night and afterward.

Sign up by emailing 1st_Thursdays@ago.net. Participants will each receive a free ticket to the event, which features a performance by Fucked Up and a live video chat with Ai Weiwei and AGO Director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum.

Heavy lifting: How we installed Ai Weiwei’s Straight

August 16th, 2013

Ai Weiwei: According to what?

Each exhibition at the AGO presents special challenges for our installation team. Hanging valuable paintings can be complicated, but some pieces demand a whole other level of planning, on-the-spot problem-solving and good old elbow grease.

Some of the works in the upcoming exhibition Ai Weiwei: According to What? were particularly complex to place: one of them, Straight, is a work that consists of no less than 38 tons of rebar (the steel bars that are used during construction to reinforce concrete).

The installation process, led by AGO Senior Project Manager Iain Hoadley, started with the arrival of four flatbed trucks, hauling a total of 40 crates, each weighing 2,500 pounds. The crates were off-loaded in our parking lot with a forklift and then brought into the building through the shipping dock and up a freight elevator to the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion, the exhibition space for According to What? and almost all of our major shows.

Two crews of 10 installed one piece of rebar at a time, working a total of 70 hours over six days to finish the final piece, which measures 40 by 20 feet, varying in height from two to 15 inches off the floor. All staff in the area wore earplugs and heavy duty gloves for this complicated installation.

Given the enormous weight of the work, Hoadley enlisted an engineering consultant for advice on the placement of the work within the gallery space, as well as the thickness of the rebar layers and the placement of the crates during the unpacking process. Straight has been installed in numerous galleries, and each time its presentation is different. Based on our space and the conditions set by our engineering consultant, Ai’s studio provided a layout specific to the AGO. And, since the Gallery has never before hosted a work this heavy, a surveyor monitored the reaction of the pavilion’s floor on a daily basis to ensure safe display conditions were maintained as installers layered the rebar.

installation of "Ai Weiwei: According to what?"

More about Straight

Ai created Straight from rebar he recovered from collapsed schoolhouses following the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The artist had every piece of mangled rebar straightened through a laborious process that served as a memorial to each earthquake victim.

This massive work is Ai’s response to the government’s refusal to acknowledge the victims. It also reflects his anger over the government’s desire to move forward as if nothing had happened. The fissure that runs through the centre of the piece represents both the impact of the earthquake and the gulf between values in Chinese society.

Ai Weiwei’s feline friends

August 8th, 2013

Besides being one of the world’s most influential and most talked-about contemporary artists, Ai Weiwei is a cat lover. The artist lives with about 40 of them in his Beijing studio home, and they have become a constant element in his life, both public and private. Alison Klayman’s 2012 documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry begins with a scene in which the artist ponders one of his pet’s special skills, linking it to the power of the individual: “Out of the 40 cats, one knows how to open doors. If I’d never met this cat that can open doors, I wouldn’t know cats can open doors.”

During a recent interview with ARTINFO, Ai took photos of cats lounging in between him and the writer, noting that they can’t keep away when a recording device is nearby: “Are they national security guards? Or are they’re just interested in sound?” Ai asked. For an artist known for work that investigates serious and sometimes grave issues like his government’s restrictions on freedom of expression and mishandling of national tragedies, Ai’s Instagram feed offers fans a rounded view of his life at home, his friends, family and visitors and what brings him joy, including his cats. Lots of cats. Have a look at Ai’s recent cat-snaps below, and follow @aiww on Instagram to see what else is happening in his world. Read the rest of this entry »