The Design Museum has opened its much anticipated exhibition of works by the Chinese dissident artist, Ai Weiwei and filled not just their exhibition space, but also outside the museum itself with his art.

If you’re a regular visitor to the Design Museum, the main thing you will notice on walking into the exhibition is the space. A space that’s usually broken up into smaller rooms has been stripped bare and emptied out to create space for four floor based works of art.

When you go in, you’re offered a booklet – take it — because none of the art is described inside the room, and all the information is in the booklet.

It’s in the booklet that you learn that the huge collection of stones are late stone age tools, that he was able to pick up for negligible amounts in Chinese markets. In Europe, these are historic artefacts treated with reverence, but modern China has in recent years been somewhat disdainful of the past, so Ai Weiwei is able to preserve the past as art.

It does challenge this European mindset though to see such antiquities laid out on the floor for anyone to trip over. No less so to see a stone-age axe-head that’s had a rectangular slab cut out of it — from the stone age to the internet age — as a stone smartphone sits next to its parent.

A thick carpet of broken teapot spouts looks not unlike an ossuary filled with the bones of the dead.

A pile of small china balls turns out to be ancient cannon balls. A layer of shattered blue china shards is a collection from his Chinese art studio, which was smashed by the Chinese government, sitting next to one of the blue pillows that managed to survive.

The Lego collection, so controversial when Lego tried to ban him from using their bricks for art, is a piled-up mess surrounded by the remnants of a wooden house.

Awkwardly, the huge rendition of the Water Lilies in Lego looks amazing from a distance, but a distance that’s impossible to achieve as there are structures in front of it. Maybe had it been on the other wall, it would be a more dominant presence in the room.

Do look carefully at the hard hat made incongruously from glass, sitting on what looks like soft foam, but is actually hard marble. The two objects are reversed in strength.

Ai Weiwei is very clever with his art, and this collection tells a narrative from stone age to modern age, but there’s something maybe missing from the experience, a sense of artistic creation at work. It’s his collection, but little of it could be described as his creation.

That said, it’s a visually impressive display. Just be very careful when walking around, as most of the art is piled on the floor and unprotected, and you do feel slightly on edge when walking around terrified that you might stumble and fall into the art.

As one of the most famous artists alive at the moment, it’s also the very definition of a blockbuster exhibition

The exhibition, Ai Weiwei: Making Sense is at the Design Museum until 30th July 2023. It’s open every day, and open late until 9pm on Saturdays.

You’re recommended to book tickets in advance from here.

  • Adult tickets from £16.80
  • Children aged 11 to 15 from £8.25
  • Under 11s go free
  • Concession/Student tickets from £12.50


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