Ai Weiwei Chinese 1957– Forever Bicycles, 2011, installation view at Taipei Fine Arts Museum © Ai Weiwei (Image courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Self-Portrait 1981 Polaroid™ Polacolor 2 3 3/8 x 4 1/4 in. (8.6 x 10.8 cm.) The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.1998.1.2872 (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Campbell's Soup II: Tomato-Beef Noodle O's 1969 screen print on paper 88.9 x 58.4 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The AndyWarhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. ( © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Brillo Soap Pads Box 1964 silkscreen ink and house paint on plywood 43.2 x 43.2 x 35.6 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. ( © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy WarholAmerican 1928–87 Flowers 1970 screen print on paper 91.4 x 91.4 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. ( © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Debbie Harry1980 acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen 106.7 x 106.7 cm (The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Self-Portrait 1966–67 acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas 55.9 x 55.9 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol Elvis 1963 synthetic polymer paint screenprinted onto canvas 208 x 91 cm National Gallery of Australia, CanberraPurchased 1973 (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol Electric Chair 1967 synthetic polymer paint screenprinted onto canvas 137.2 x 185.1 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1977 (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Mao 1972 acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen 208.3 x 154.9 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution Dia Center for the Arts1997.1.21 (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Self-Portrait with Skull 1977 Polaroid™ Polacolor Type 108 10.8 x 8.6 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution TheAndy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.1998.1.2866 (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Gun 1981–82 acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen 177.8 x 228.6 x 3.2 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.1998.1.274 (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Jackie 1964 acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen 50.8 x 40.6 x 1.9 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (© 2015The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Cat in Front of Churchc. 1959 ink, graphite, and Dr. Martin's Aniline dye on Strathmore Seconds paper 57.5 x 45.1cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Cat Collage(from 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy) c. 1954 ink, Dr. Martin's Aniline dye, and collage on Strathmore paper 73.7 x 58.4 cm (The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Julia Warhola American 1892–1972 So Happy1950s ink, graphite and anilinedye on paper 24.8 x 31.8 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (1998.1.1404) (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 You're In 1967 spray paint on glass bottles in printed wooden crate Crate: 20.3 x 43.2 x 30.5 cm Bottles (each): 20.3 x 5.7 cm Diameter: 18.7 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Three Marilyns 1962 acrylic,silkscreen ink, and graphite on linen 35.6 x 85.1 cmThe Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. ( © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Self-Portrait No. 91986 synthetic polymer paint and screenprint on canvas 203.5 x 203.7 cm National Gallery of Victoria, MelbournePurchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria withthe assistance of the National Gallery Women's Association, Governor, 1987 (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Silver Liz [Ferus Type] 1963 silkscreen ink, acrylic, and spray paint on linen101.6 x 101.6 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Fabis Statue of Liberty 1986 acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen 127.0 x 177.8 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (© 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney)
Edward Wallowitch American 1933–1981 Andy Warhol Holding Kitten 1957 gelatin silver photograph13.3 x 17.5 cm (sheet) The Andy Warhol Museum, PittsburghFounding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (1998.3.2810) (© 2015 Estate of Edward Wallowitch, all rights reserved.)
Edward Wallowitch American 1933–1981 Andy Warhol with Siamese Catc. 1957 gelatin silver photograph 14.9 × 21.6 cm The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.1998.3.5212 (© 2015 Estate of Edward Wallowitch, all rights reserved.)
Andy Warhol American 1928–87 Screen Test: Edie Sedgwick [ST308] 1965 16mm film, black-and-white, silent, 4.6 minutes at 16 frames per second (The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.© 2015 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved.)
The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, Exploding Plastic Inevitable (EPI) gallery (© Abby Warhola)
Christopher Makos Andy Warhol in Tiananmen Square 1982 (© Christopher Makos 1982, makostudio.com)
Steve Schapiro Andy Warhol Factory Portrait, New York 1963 (© Steve Schapiro)
Steve Schapiro Andy Warhol Under the Silver Cloud Pillow, New York 1965 (© Steve Schapiro; Andy Warhol artwork © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Steve Schapiro Andy Warhol Blowing Up Silver Cloud Pillow, Los Angeles 1966 (© Steve Schapiro; Andy Warhol artwork © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Steve Schapiro Andy Warhol Entourage Triptych, New York 1965 (© Steve Schapiro; Andy Warhol artwork © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Steve Schapiro Andy Warhol with Cow Wallpaper, Los Angeles 1966 (© Steve Schapiro; Andy Warhol artwork © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Ugo Mulas Andy Warhol, Gerard Malanga and Philip Fagan in New York 1964 Image courtesy Ugo Mulas Archive © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney. (© Ugo Mulas Heirs. All rights reserved. Courtesy Archivio Ugo Mulas, Milano –Galleria Lia Rumma, Milano/Napoli; Andy Warhol artwork )
Ai Weiwei Chinese 1957– At the Museum of Modern Art 1987 from the New York Photographsseries 1983–93 silver gelatin photograph Ai Weiwei Studio (© Ai Weiwei; Andy Warhol artwork © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Ai Weiwei 2012 (Image courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio)
Ai Weiwei Chinese 1957– Williamsburg, Brooklyn 1983 from the New York Photographsseries 1983‒93 silver gelatin photograph (Ai Weiwei Studio © Ai Weiwei)
Coloured Vases 2006 Neolithic vases (5000-3000 BC) and industrial paintdimensions variable (Image courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio)
Ai Weiwei Chinese 1957– S.A.C.R.E.D.2011–13 (detail) 6 dioramas; fibreglass, iron 377.0 x 197.0 x 148.4 cm (each) Ai Weiwei Studio (© Ai Weiwei)
Ai Weiwei 2009 (Image courtesy Ai Weiwei studio)
Ai Weiwei Chinese 1957– Illumination 2014 digital lambda print 126.0 x 168.0 cm Ai Weiwei Studio (© Ai Weiwei)
Ai Weiwei Chinese 1957– Mao (Facing Forward)1986 oil on canvas 233.6 x 193.0 cm Private collection © Ai Weiwei (Image courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio)
Ai Weiwei Chinese 1957– Neolithic Pottery with Coca Cola Logo 2007 paint, Neolithic ceramic urn 27.94 x 24.89 cm Private collection © Ai Weiwei (Image courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio)
Ai Weiwei Chinese 1957– Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn 1995 3 silver gelatin photographs 148.0 x 120.0 cm each (triptych) Ai Weiwei Studio (© Ai Weiwei)
Ai Weiwei Chinese 1957– Ai Weiwei with cat, @aiww, Instagram,2006 Ai Weiwei Studio (© Ai Weiwei)
Ai Weiwei Chinese 1957– Ai Weiwei with Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds, @aiww, Instagram, 2015 Ai Weiwei Studio (© Ai Weiwei; Andy Warhol artwork © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)
Chinese 1957–Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia 2006 from the Study of Perspectiveseries 1995–2011 type C photograph various dimensions (Ai Weiwei Studio)
Ai Weiwei Chinese 1957– Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China 1995 from the Study of Perspectiveseries 1995–2011 gelatin silver photograph various dimensions Ai Weiwei Studio (© Ai Weiwei)

Is Ai Weiwei the Andy Warhol of Our Time?

A new exhibition in Melbourne delves into the connections between the artists who define their generations

smithsonian.com

If Andy Warhol had the soup can, then Ai Weiwei has the bicycle.

And it is an overwhelming pile of bicycles, almost 1,500 of them piled more than 30 feet high, that unbolts the exhibition “Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei,” that opened at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). Through more than 300 works, including major commissions like the tower of bicycles, immersive installations and a wide representation of media including, of course, social media (Ai’s weapon of choice), the show explores pop culture and what we call “our time” beyond the domain of art.

It also considers the connections between Warhol, the enigmatic pop artist of the 20th century, and Ai, a Chinese artist and activist known for his work challenging the Chinese regime. “[Warhol] is the first artist I felt that I could completely understand,” says Ai. He adds that Warhol was possibly 50 years ahead of his time and describes him to be “extremely sincere and at the same time never sincere, like a person that virtually exists.”

“The exhibition allows us to explore the works of both artists in dialogue and correspondence,” says Max Delany, senior curator of Contemporary Art at the NGV. For Delany, this relationship is encapsulated by a self-portrait by Ai taken in New York at the Museum of Modern Art in 1987, the year of Warhol’s death. Ai, still a young artists in his 20s, is standing in front of a self-portrait Warhol made of himself in 1966. 

But the rest of the relationship between the artists, who never met, is much less on the nose. There are thematic connections as well. The exhibit also considers the relationship between tradition and modernity, the role of individual and the state, questions of human rights and the big question of freedom of expression. Andy Warhol tapped into these ruminations by looking at how we internalize mass consumption (be it physical or virtual) and popular; Ai today infuses his work with similar sentiments. Like Warhol before him, Ai uses that svelte cross-disciplinary approach and thus explores various modes of production – with the Internet and all its tentacles speaking loudest.

For this show in Melbourne, in a welcome change of circumstance, Ai will be present. The artist has missed many of his large-scale exhibitions due to restrictions on his travel; with this show being one of the two-dozen that he has actually been able to see. The artist, often under scrutiny by the Chinese government, was under house arrest in 2010 for almost two months. Shortly after that, under investigation for alleged economic crimes, he was arrested and held for 81 days without any official charges filed. “I am grateful for what the authorities have done for me in some way, I now have no excuse to miss a show,” says Ai.

And as the artist has traveled so have his bicycles, since the series began in 2003. In addition to the installation in Melbourne, Ai’s towering bicycles are currently installed outside London’s Gherkin building. The title of the work, “Forever Bicycle,” refers to a brand of bicycles, Forever, that have been mass manufactured in Shanghai, China, since 1940, but have become rare on the city’s streets. Similar to Warhol and his famous Campbell soup cans, Ai is toying with the idea of a “found object” turned into something else. “Growing up in China, the bicycle was a major vehicle for people and a status symbol - even though it wasn’t as glamorous as owning a BMW,” says Ai.

“Warhol and Weiwei critique their immediate environs, hitting on topics as diverse as consumer culture, celebrity and art history to reshape and revise the way we understand our world,” says Eric Shiner, director at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and co-curator on the exhibition. He believes that both artists owe a great deal to Marcel Duchamp, the French conceptual artist, who opened the door to what art can and should be through his famous readymades.

“Pop art was and always will be art that mirrors the world of popular culture from which it emerges and which it helps to define,” says Shiner. “Important art is challenging and forces one to think. It might promote social justice and equality, just as it may seek to deconstruct notions of power and privilege,” says Shiner.

Warhol was a fanatical chronicler of his time (through film, photography, audiotapes and publishing) and his portraits of celebrities and video diaries are perhaps the early onset of social media. “Warhol was keenly aware of the significance of fame and celebrity, and cultivated his own persona to forge new social realities,” says Delany.

Ai Weiwei is expressing the world, right now, with his online activism, which includes Twitter, Instagram, viral videos, satirical memes and Weibo (the biggest social network in China), as his weapon of choice. He has demanded justice when dilapidated schools collapsed in a Sichuan earthquake killing thousands of children, critiqued the Beijing Olympics by calling it “propaganda,” commented on “internet freedom” and given the Chinese government numerous photos of his middle finger.

The revolution, according to Ai, could be lit up any moment you touch the keyboard. And so this is where he sees his power. For him, the very idea that a nation would shut down a website because he was having too much fun is powerful – which ultimately led to the arrest in 2011. “Jail didn’t change me in principle, but changed the way I behave,” says Ai. “Jail is like being dropped into the bottom of the ocean. When you cannot hear your voice, there’s an illusion that you don’t have your voice.”

And so as much as the 20th century was shaped by America, the 21st century is dubbed, as “the Chinese century” meaning artists like Ai with his politically charged work and activism is where the “jasmine revolution,” an intensive campaign of civil resistance that started in Tunisia and spread to China in 2011 with public protests, will pick up the baton and keep sprinting. “Warhol is probably jealous that he’s not here right now,” says Ai.

"Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei" runs at the National Gallery of Victoria from December 11, 2015 through April 24, 2016 before moving to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, where it will be on show from June through August.

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