Until last week, if you had asked me, “Edward, does any famous artist dominate the cultural scene in Los Angeles right now,” my answer would have been, “No, absolutely not.” But, with three new exhibitions plus a sold-out museum conversation, Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei has taken over our City of Angels, and we are all better off succumbing to it.
Top and Bottom: Installation shots, Ai Weiwei: Life Cycle. Ai Weiwei. Marciano Art Foundation. Photos by Edward Goldman.
On Thursday, last week, Marciano Art Foundation opened the ambitious, sprawling exhibition by Ai Weiwei, Life Cycle, which features work from the last 10 years. First, we encounter literally millions of tiny porcelain sculptures in the shape of sunflower seeds. 1600 Chinese artisans were engaged to execute this labor-intensive project that brings to mind propaganda posters “of the cultural revolution depicting Mao Zedong as the sun and citizens as sunflowers turning toward him” (MAF).
Another installation, Spouts (2015) sprawls across the floor, consisting of a pile of many thousands of antique teapot spouts. Once again, Ai Weiwei deals with repetition and multiplication, creating a metaphor for a mass of mouths “yearning for freedom of speech” (MAF).
The last and most theatrical installation is one that combines dozens of sculptures made of bamboo and silk, including a gigantic bamboo sculpture, Life Cycle, (2018) of an inflatable boat with refugees inside. Above the boat, suspended in the air, sculptures representing creatures from Chinese mythology.
LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director Michael Govan in conversation with artist Ai Weiwei. LACMA. Photo by Edward Goldman.
On Friday night, Ai Weiwei was on the stage at LACMA with museum Director Michael Govan, talking about his life, his art, his philosophy. It was amazing to encounter his self-deprecating sense of humor. He is an extremely rare example of a famous artist taking his work and art seriously, but not himself.
Installation shot, Ai Weiwei: Zodiac. Ai Weiwei. Jeffrey Deitch. Photo by Edward Goldman.
On Saturday, Ai Weiwei’s exhibition Zodiac opened at Jeffrey Deitch, the new 15,000 sq ft gallery in Hollywood. Once again, I was wondering at the massive installation comprised of nearly 6000 antique wooden stools, gathered from villages across China; all of them similar, each of them individual.
And of course, I am eager to see the third Ai Weiwei exhibition that opens this Thursday at the UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills – the gallery that was architecturally redesigned by the artist himself.
Landscape with Two Derelict Castles, 1847. Victor Hugo. The Hammer. Photo by Edward Goldman.
On Sunday, I went to The Hammer to see the new exhibition, Stones to Stains: The Drawings of Victor Hugo. Who would believe that this most famous 19 th century French writer – the author of Les Misérables – was an artist, as well?
L: Souvenir of a Castle in the Vosges, 1857. R: Abstract Composition with Fingerprints, 1864-65. Victor Hugo. The Hammer. Photo by Edward Goldman.
And not just an OK craftsman; but an inventive painter with an affinity for semi and totally abstract compositions. Just take a look at some of the images on our website – look at what Hugo does with brown ink and wash, smearing it messily around with brushes and fingers.
L: Silhouette of a Tower, 1855. R: Stain. 1850-1855. Victor Hugo. The Hammer. Photo by Edward Goldman.
If you didn’t know that Victor Hugo lived and worked in the 19 th century, you would swear that some of his abstractions and cutouts were made 100 years later, in the mid 20 th century.
And yesterday, I read an article in the NY Times about another great writer – this time, an American playwright, who wrote A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams. A current exhibition at The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU presents him as a rather compelling painter. For me, it was another revelation.
Damn, isn’t it unfair that Gods and Muses bestow such diverse talents upon some people?