(2014), Ai Weiwei
June 2017 – May 2018
Presented in partnership with The Contemporary Austin. Conceptual artist Ai Weiwei is considered one of the most important and influential artists working today and one of the leading cultural figures of his generation. Drawing on current global politics, Chinese culture, human rights, and more to push the definition of art into new realms Ai consistently places himself at risk to affect social change and has amplified his own artistic voice by expanding his output to include films, photography, writing, publishing, curation, and architecture. Permeated by social conscience, humor, and compassion, his work has included a range of unorthodox methods, materials, and subject matter, including Instagram feeds, dioramas of his own experiences in a Chinese prison, millions of porcelain sunflower seeds filling a gallery at Tate Modern in London, and items of clothing left behind in refugee camps, meticulously washed, pressed, and arranged in a gallery at Jeffrey Deitch in New York.
Forever Bicycles (2014) consists of over 1,200 bicycles transformed into a playful, spectacular monolith of a sculpture. In characteristic fashion, the artist decommissions and recontextualizes a functional everyday object: the bicycle. The title, Forever Bicycles, alludes to the Forever brand (Yongjiu)—a company based in Shanghai whose mass-produced bicycles flooded the streets of China during the artist’s childhood yet remained financially out of reach for many—but also suggests a globally utilitarian form of transport now disappearing as car culture becomes predominant. The conceptual premise of this series consists of several to thousands of bicycles assembled into a composition, typically with an archway underneath for viewers to pass through. The work has existed in many iterations over time, each version site-specific to its location through the number of bicycles, positioning, and formation. While static, the bicycles together become a vertiginous structure of steel, light, and shadow, rendering the “forever” in the title a metaphor for meaning beyond the brand and encapsulating the optical effect when the viewer looks up into a seemingly infinite puzzle of wheels, frames, and spokes with the sky as backdrop.
Ai Weiwei’s Iron Tree Trunk (2015), originally part of this two-site Austin exhibition, has now been acquired by The Contemporary Austin and will remain at the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria for viewers to enjoy.