There are no constraints in what art should be when Andy Warhol and Ai Wei Wei are put together. The exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria brings out the unexpected similarities between the two artists from a completely different background.
Wei Wei, one of the iconic Chinese artists of the 21st century has a strong social media presence. And although Warhol lived in the world without Facebook and Instagram, he can be seen as a pioneer of a “selfie” culture using Polaroid. They are both keen to make use of the latest technology in their works. They are also noticeable in their way of portraying themselves in their works, making themselves celebrities as well as artists. The audience knows what they look like, not just recognising their works.
They also challenge the idea of what art should be. Marcel Duchamp had a heavy influence on them as the father of Readymade art, introducing ordinary manufactured products in the art gallery. Warhol’s Campbell can and Heinz boxes blurred the line between an ad and art, while Wei Wei reflects on his childhood, using the frame of mass-produced Chinese bikes in his newly commissioned Forever Bicycles installation.
There are always thoughts and political messages behind Ai Wei Wei’s art, so reading a label or doing a little background research will add greater depths and dimension to his work. For example, his project With Flowers is more than just aesthetically pleasing, featuring a bicycle and a wall filled with pictures of colourful bouquets. It is a peaceful protest from when the Chinese government confiscated his passport. Wei Wei placed a bouquet in the bicycle’s basket everyday for the surveillance camera and shared the pictures on social media.
Warhol’s work has less to do with a political message, and is more focused on an aesthetic innovation, featuring a vibrant juxtaposition of colours. Coming from a commercial, advertising background, Warhol was good at producing a visual treat you would want to bring back home to display.
A little disappointment to the exhibition was when commercialism kicked in: pop-up stores that divided the exhibit in two. As the gallery has succeeded in creating an immersive world of Ai Wei Wei and Andy Warhol, the pop-up store has brutally drawn back the audience into real life. The exhibition itself however was very well curated and informative, leaving the audience with an anticipation for the next artist to be compared with the two.