If you happen to find yourself in Melbourne over the next few weeks, the National Gallery of Victoria’s Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei double bill is the exhibition to lock in. A show dedicated to just one of these artists would be a blockbuster in its own right, but the two of them together side by side makes this an exhibition you cannot afford to miss.
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) depicted and defined the character of 20th century, New York. Ai Weiwei (born 1957) champions freedom of expression while casting a sharp eye on contemporary Beijing. Both artists challenge and transform the idea of the role of the artist as provocateur, activist, and cultural producer.
On entering the exhibition, one of the first pieces you'll encounter is Ai’s immense new nine-metre high, 16-metre-wide installation made from 1,500 bicycles. From there, the exhibition takes a thematic approach. There are rooms dedicated to both artists’ use of readymade objects. Warhol’s ‘Brillo Soap Pads Box’ (1964) will be exhibited next to Ai’s cube-shaped ‘Ton of Tea’ (2006). Several prints from the ‘Campbell’s Soup Can II’ series (1969) are shown alongside Ai’s ‘Coloured Vases’, Ai’s ongoing project which sees the artist plunging Han and Neolithic vases into tubs of industrial paint.
Today, social media is Ai’s most powerful tool of political activism. One of the artist’s new pieces – a LEGO-based installation that represents Australian activists, advocates, and champions of free speech – has created a controversy that has extended far beyond the in-the-know art world. In October, the Danish toy company refused to sell any bricks to Ai, on the basis that it could not approve the use of LEGO for political works. Through Instagram, Ai decried the response as “an act of censorship and discrimination”, and soon galleries all over the world (including the NGV) became inundated with LEGO donations.
Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei is on display at NGV International until 24 April 2016 - make sure you don't miss out!