PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — He comes from China with a very peculiar sounding name, but Ai Weiwei is a groundbreaking artist and activist whose life and work has shaken the government of his homeland and continues to make waves around the world.
“We’re very excited to have one of the most important artists of our age, at the peak of his career, here in Pittsburgh,” said Eric Shiner, of the Andy Warhol Museum.
A show opening Friday at the Warhol Museum pairs the work of the international artist with one of his major influences, the Pittsburgh-born pop-icon Andy Warhol.
The similarities are as stunning as they are thought-provoking.
Warhol’s silver cloud balloons with other colorful ones made by Weiwei. In another gallery are Warhol’s portraits of Chairman Mao, which are hung alongside those made by the Chinese artist.
With a Warholian touch, Weiwei has put the Coca-Cola logo on an ancient urn. It’s backed by Warhol’s own portrait of a Coke bottle, shining attention on a changing world in China.
“That’s a prime example of shift in labor and markets and capitalism. The rise of Capitalism in China, and how that’s bending and blurring with the ancient traditions,” says curator Jessica Beck.
It’s curious art, dipping urns in brightly-colored paint. Self-portraits made of Legos of him dropping and smashing an urn have raised eye-brows.
But bringing awareness to Mao’s destruction of ancient culture, and the shifts in the current one have not earned him the favor with the Chinese government.
Weiwei’s own investigations into government officials and advocating for individual freedom landed him in jail for 81 days, provoking a worldwide outcry.
“Very rare that an artist is persecuted literally through a legal system for his or her art making,” says Shiner. “So, it’s a very powerful story.”
But Weiwei has turned his persecution into art, with pieces like a heavy metal video depicting his arrest and imprisonment.
Later, under house arrest, he put a new bouquet of flowers in his bicycle basket every day, Instagramming them around with the world with the hashtag “#FlowersForFreedom.”
He also protested his imprisonment by making a surveillance camera out of marble.
“It’s a political show. It’s an activist show. It’s cool, it’s beautiful and it’s really kind of epic. So I think people will enjoy what they see here,” said Shiner.
The work of Weiwei is eye-popping, engaging, and at the same time, both playful and deadly-serious. You can see it at the Warhol Museum through the end of August. For more information on the exhibit, visit the Andy Warhol Museum’s website here.