Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace – reviews of 'dizzying' art show
Cultures and values collide in 'magical feast of images' by China's eloquent artist-activist
What you need to know
A new exhibition by contemporary dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has opened at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace features over 50 new and well-known artworks by the activist-artist who lives under house arrest in China.
The show presents works spanning Ai Weiwei's career displayed throughout the palace and its grounds. It includes photographs taken by Ai in 1980s New York, the Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (a series of golden sculptures referring to icons of imperial China), a table made of reclaimed wood from Qing Dynasty temples and a carpet made specifically for the show. Runs until 14 December.
What the critics like
An exhibition of Ai Weiwei, the world's most celebrated, original artist-social activist, at Blenheim Palace is "a dizzying convergence of values and world views", says Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times. As a setting for Ai's works referring to China's cultural relations with antiquity, Blenheim adds nuance and the sheer oddness of Chinese history illuminated here underlines the ambivalence, conceptual dexterity and wrong-footing energy of Ai's vision.
This clever, fun exhibition combines old with new, "East with West, and good taste with bling, in such a subtle way that it is almost seamless", says Florence Waters in the Daily Telegraph. Ai is the perfect choice to show at an intimidating venue such as Blenheim because he's never been afraid of taking on the powerful.
Modern chinoiserie and myths of east and west meet in "a chaotic, hilarious, liberating vision of history gone mad", says Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. This magical feast of images and ideas reveals him purely as an artist - a great one.
What they don't like
While "hardly his most fascinating", famous or striking works, this show makes an impact by contrasting the eloquent simplicity of Ai's pieces with the overdone baroque grandeur of the setting, says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times. Yet it "feels understated almost to the point of reticence" and will leave those being introduced to the artist longing for a deeper acquaintance.