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.
For Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2013, our current artist-in-residence, Diane Borsato, presented a major new performance with 100 regional beekeepers in Walker Court. While exploring the tangible effect of collective meditation, Your Temper, My Weather asked viewers to reflect upon the health and temper of bees and their keepers and on the policies and environmental conditions that affect our shared future. The night’s choreographed performance featured periods of guided, silent meditation, plus synchronized stretching and musical accompaniment.
The live performance ran from 6:51 p.m. until midnight with short, periodic breaks, and a video of the performance was screened in Walker Court from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m.
An accompanying piece by Toronto artist Winnie Truong, Beekeeper, was on display in the Elizabeth & Tony Comper Gallery. Borsato commissioned Truong to create this large illustration of a beekeeper stung in the eyes by bees.
About Diane Borsato
Diane Borsato is a visual artist working in various media. Recently, she has worked with amateur naturalists including mycologists (botanists specializing in fungi), astronomers and beekeepers in projects that explore social, mobile and multisensory ways of exploring natural phenomena. Borsato will be in residency at the AGO until Nov. 8, 2013.
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.
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.
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 »
On Thursday, August 9, from 11 a.m. to noon the AGO is teaming up with TIFF and co-hosting an hour-long online discussion about film and art. We hope you’ll join us!
Julian Schnabel, Untitled (Christopher Walken), 2006, Polaroid photograph, 20” x 24” Polaroid Camera. Courtesy of the artist.
Despite their separate venues and divergent mandates, the visual arts and film worlds share a lot of similarities, not just in technique and presentation but also in their ability to engage and inspire viewers. The AGO has invited visitors to experience and explore the convergence of art and film in both its programming — with film screenings in Jackman Hall and courses and workshops that utilize filmmaking techniques — and exhibitions, such as the recent showing of Yael Bartana’s film trilogy …And Europe Will Be Stunned and Julian Schnabel: Art and Film in 2010-2011 (listen to the artist discuss his work with former AGO curator of modern and contemporary art David Moos here). This fall and winter in Evan Penny: Re Figured, we are excited to show works by a Canadian hyperrealist sculptor who worked for a thirteen-year period in the film industry, creating amazing special effects and makeup for films by David Cronenburg, Oliver Stone, John Woo and others.
Our co-hosts for this month’s #ArtHour, TIFF, run a programme called Future Projections, in which “cinema meets the visual arts with moving-image projects” during each year’s festival. Last year as part of that programme, actor James Franco collaborated with director Gus Van Sant to create Memories of Idaho, a multi-part installation that centred on the critically acclaimed film My Own Private Idaho and its lead actor, River Phoenix. You can watch Franco and Van Sant discuss that project here (check back at tiff.net soon for info on this year’s Future Projections programme). TIFF has also shown many films about art and artists. Currently running at TIFF Bell Lightbox is Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a documentary about the prominent Chinese artist and dissident.
With their multidisciplinary experience and expertise, we’re glad to have TIFF as our co-hosts on August 9 for a Twitter chat that explores the following questions:
Q1 What are your favourite films that blur the line between the visual art and cinema worlds? Q2 What people have been able to master working in both the fields of visual art and cinema? Q3 Which films do you think have excelled in the artistic use of special effects? Q4 What is your favourite movie about art or artists? Q5 Is there more freedom for creative individuals working in the art world than working in film? Q6 How do we give art and artists recognition in film festivals and awards? Do they get enough?
The person who contributes the most to the conversation will win a copy of Julian Schnabel: Art and Film, the 368-page catalogue produced for the AGO exhibition of the same name, as well as two pairs of tickets to a screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
What #ArtHour is a Twitter chat with a new art topic each month. We invite you to spend one hour each month thinking about and sharing what art really means to you. When Thursday, August 9, 11:00 a.m. – noon EDT (takes place the second Thursday of every month). Where On Twitter. Follow @agotoronto and @TIFF_NET for more information, or search for the hashtag #ArtHour. You can follow along using Tweetchat by using the #ArtHour hashtag. Who #ArtHour is for everyone: galleries and museums, arts professionals, artists and anyone interested in learning more and meeting other passionate art fans. How Starting at 11 a.m. @agotoronto and @TIFF_NET will be tweeting a question every 10 minutes using the hashtag #ArtHour. Anyone can respond, also using #ArtHour. For example, we would tweet Q1 What is your favourite painting? #ArtHour, and you could tweet back A1 The West Wind by Tom Thomson! #ArtHour.
We hope that you’ll help spread the word and join us for #ArtHour. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.