Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei / National Gallery of Victoria

It’s been a long time between drinks and I desperately need to do a catch-up post, but I’ll save that for another day. As I’ve nabbed a few spare moments, I want to share some photos from my trip to the NGV yesterday to visit the Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei exhibition.

After what felt like an eternity and dozens of Facebook photos from multiple friends who had already been, I managed to spare some time to get in. With Melbourne’s weather making it feel like we were in June, we spent a good half hour just lining up to get tickets!

I’m not someone who is particularly knowledgeable about art but this exhibition is pretty universal, especially in terms of being colourful and thought-provoking. Also, there was plenty of political content that I understood and was fascinated by. Of course, Warhol’s work is so well-known that half the joy came from seeing it up close. Although my knowledge of Ai didn’t extend much beyond his famous Study of Perspective, I was very appreciative of his work and activism, perhaps even more so than Warhol’s.

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Ai Weiwei / Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (2015, plastic)
In 1995, Ai took photos of himself holding, releasing and smashing an urn from the Han dynasty. Here, he has recreated the image by using building blocks, giving them a pixellated look.


Andy Warhol / Vote McGovern (1972, colour photo-stencil silkscreen on paper)
As a massive political history nerd, this one caught my eye immediately. It turns out that Warhol was asked to create a screen-print supporting the Democratic nominee George McGovern and, instead of depicting McGovern himself, he chose to depict his opponent up for re-election, Richard Nixon, instead. The sickly green of Nixon’s face highlights the “period of deception and mistrust”, reckoning that “truth can be found in appearances”. Nixon would go on to win the election in a landslide, even with the initial rumblings of Watergate. 


Andy Warhol / Jackie (1964, synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on linen)
Similarly, Warhol did a large portrait series of Jacqueline Kennedy in the wake of her husband’s assassination. These images were shown both individually and grouped, suggesting both her solitary experience of grief along with the collective mourning of the country, as well as the effect of the new medium of television on sentiment.

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Just an assortment of Warhol’s famous Polaroids, including Debbie Harry, Keith Haring, Mick Jagger, Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. While I was having a look, I overheard someone say ‘Is that OJ Simpson? Damn he was attractive when he was young.’ Okay….


Ai Weiwei / Letgo Room (2015, plastic)
This was probably one of my favourite features of the exhibition. An installation of more than three million building blocks, it comprises of portraits of Australian human rights/freedom of speech activists. Each subject featured also gave a one-line statement summarising their philosophy, which are featured alongside their portraits.

My favourite part is that it was supposed to be made out of Lego, but the company refused to provide the building blocks due to the ‘political’ nature of the installation. The subjects include Hana Assafiri, Dr Gary Foley, Peter Greste and my fave Rosie Batty (who I heard speak late last year, it was incredible).


Ai Weiwei / June 1994 (1994, gelatin silver photograph)
On the fifth anniversary of the 1989 student demonstrations of Tiananmen Square, Ai’s girlfriend (and later wife) and artist Lu Qing lifts her skirt in the square. “While the image of Mao watches over the scene and guards patrol the area, Lu’s gesture – an act of defiance and personal freedom – goes unnoticed.”

Here are some more photos from the exhibition:

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