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Design Museum to host Ai Weiwei exhibition in April

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Ai Weiwei is bringing his first ever exhibition on design to London's Design Museum from next month.


Ai Weiwei: Making Sense will be the artist’s biggest UK show in eight years and promises visitors new works, famous pieces, and installations created especially for the museum.


In a hugely exciting move, the artworks for this landmark London exhibition won't just be confined to the exhibition gallery. They will actually spill out into the Design Museum's vast atrium space, its outdoor courtyard, and even onto High Street Kensington outside. The most striking of these large-scale installations will be Coloured House, the timber frame of a house that once belonged to a prosperous family in Zhejiang province, in eastern China, during the early Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911 CE). And there'll also be a massive marble roll of toilet roll.


Read all the latest exhibition news here


At the heart of the Ai Weiwei exhibition itself will be a series of major site-specific installations made up of (literally) hundreds of thousands of objects that he has collected together over the past 30 years. They will all be laid out on the floor of the gallery in a series of five expansive ‘fields’. The objects from Stone Age tools to Lego bricks — are the result of his ongoing fascination with artefacts and traditional craftsmanship. The expansive collection-based works (which are definitely going to take the breath away) have never been brought together before. Three of the fields have been created for this exhibition and will be seen for the very first time. The other two have never been seen in the UK before.


A birds eye view of Ai Weiwei lying on his back amongst 1600 neolithic tools laid out in orderly lines
Ai Weiwei amongst his work Still Life. © Image courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio

Launching the show via an online press conference, Ai Weiwei said that “Collecting certainly played a big role in my practice." He went on to say that "(It’s) only when you collect so much that you start to imagine humans and society and the behaving of society because it tells much more unthinkable stories than just one single antique.”


One field will also feature thousands of fragments from Ai's porcelain sculptures which he had to destroy when the bulldozers of the Chinese state razed his studio to the ground in Beijing in 2018. "Still it doesn't make any sense why they have to do it... they just wanted to do something to punish me" he told the same press conference.


Alongside the fields will be dozens of objects and artworks from throughout Ai Weiwei’s career that explore the tensions between past and present, hand and machine, precious and worthless, construction and destruction. Ai Weiwei's Coca-Cola vase — his Han dynasty urn emblazoned with a Coca-Cola logo — is a famous and eye-catching piece that epitomises these clashes.


A multi-coloured frame of a two-storey house displayed in the open air with blue sky behind it
Ai Weiwei, Coloured House, 2013. © Image courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio

Coloured House is likely to be one of the pieces you see most on your instagram during the exhibition's run. It will be installed in the Design Museum’s atrium where visitors will be able to walk within it. Ai Weiwei has painted the house with industrial colours, combining ancient and modern, and has installed it on crystal bases – giving presence and status to this unlikely survivor. This will be the first time Coloured House has been seen in the UK.


Another highlight will be Ai Weiwei's recreation of one the most famous paintings by French Impressionist Claude Monet — and it's made entirely of Lego. In fact it's the largest Lego artwork Ai Weiwei has ever made.


Titled Water Lilies #1, the work is over 15m in length and will span the entire length of one of the walls in the Design Museum gallery. It is made from nearly 650,000 studs of Lego bricks, in 22 colours.


Water Lilies #1 recreates Monet’s famous painting, Water Lilies (1914 — 26), a monumental triptych which is currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


How much are Ai Weiwei tickets at the Design Museum?


If this all sounds like an exhibition you want to see, then luckily for you you can already snap up tickets. Ai Weiwei tickets are £15 for adults, and £11.25 for students. Under 11s go free. You can book tickets here.


The Design Museum's Director Tim Marlow said that the exhibition is long overdue and that he was "proud that the Design Museum is the first institution to frame the work of Ai Weiwei through the lens of architecture and design."


Ai Weiwei: Making Sense opens at the Design Museum on 7 April 2023.

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