The largest exhibition in the UK in nearly a decade by the artist Ai Weiwei will open at the Design Museum later this year. The museum says that this will also be the artist’s very first exhibition to focus on design and architecture, and will feature works never shown before in the UK, as well as major new pieces displayed for the very first time.

Ai Weiwei at the Design Museum, Sept 2022 (c) Rick Pushinsky for the Design Museum

Although most of the exhibition will be behind the pay desk to visit, there will also be large scale works displayed in the main museum atrium which is free to visit, as well as in the courtyard outside the museum.

One of the collections on display will be the thousands of LEGO bricks that were donated after he was banned by LEGO from using their bricks to produce portraits of political prisoners.

Known around the world for his powerful art and activism, Ai Weiwei works across many disciplines, and in this exhibition, Ai will be using design and the history of making as a lens through which to consider what we value.

At the heart of the exhibition will be a series of major site-specific installations. Hundreds of thousands of objects will be laid out on the floor of the gallery in a series of five expansive ‘fields’. These objects — from Stone Age tools to Lego bricks — have been collected together by Ai Weiwei since the 1990s, and are the result of his ongoing fascination with artefacts and traditional craftsmanship.

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. His Han dynasty urn emblazoned with a Coca-Cola logo, which will be on show, epitomises these clashes.

Highlights also include a number of examples of Ai’s ‘ordinary’ objects, where he has transformed something useful into something useless but valuable. He does this by crafting items in precious materials. These include a worker’s hard hat cast in glass which becomes at once strong and fragile, and a sculpture of an iPhone that has been cut out of a jade axe-head.

There will also be works that reference the Covid-19 pandemic which exposed our dependence on humble things. On display will be three toilet paper sculptures: two life-size rolls (one in marble and one in glass) as well as a 2 meter-long sculpture in marble which is being displayed for the first time.

The exhibition, Ai Weiwei: Making Sense will be at the Design Museum from 7th April to 30th July 2023.

Tickets can be booked in advance from here.

The museum is open daily 10am to 6pm, but is also open late every Friday and Saturday until 9pm.

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