Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, one of the nation’s premier botanic and sculpture experiences, announces the final four weeks of the landmark exhibition featuring internationally renowned artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Ending on August 20, 2017, Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State has been the first of its kind for the artist at a botanical garden or sculpture park anywhere in the world. More than 30 works are sited in galleries, conservatories, public spaces and the auditorium.
The title of the exhibition underscores the relationship between the artist and the venue. The word “natural” sheds light on Ai Weiwei’s use of imagery from the natural world to introduce his ideas and concerns. It also refers to his use of natural materials from ceramics and silk, to bamboo and wood. The word “state” suggests multiple levels of meaning, from the state of a found object that the artist may transform, to the state of humanity, whose inequalities and injustices the artist feels compelled to call out for the betterment of the lives of women, men and children everywhere. The notion of “state” also refers to political systems that Ai Weiwei has challenged for the benefit of humankind in his native China and around the world.
The exhibition at Meijer Gardens has provided Ai Weiwei the opportunity to use the diverse environments of the four gallery spaces, four indoor conservatories, auditorium and numerous public areas. Iconic works from across the artist’s repertoire, as well as work specific to Meijer Gardens, are featured. Starting in the galleries, visitors find iconic works such as He Xie, Blossom, Watermelon and Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn. Also on display are three wallpapers designed by Ai Weiwei, including the rarely seen The Animal that Looks Like a Llama but is Really an Alpaca. Shown in the Scenic Corridor are five monumental sculptural bodies derived from ancient Chinese mythological text: Taifeng, Dijiang, Shuyu, Mingshe and Shusi. Additional iconic porcelain works are on display in the Tropical Conservatory, Arid Garden, the Seasonal Display Greenhouse and the Victorian Garden Parlor including Rock, Porcelain Rebar and Bubble. Combined, it is an exhibition of unprecedented scope, presenting both iconic and recently created work.
“Having worked with Ai Weiwei for many years and in venues across the world, it has been a pleasure to see him focused on the very distinguished and unique circumstances of Meijer Gardens,” said Greg Hilty, Curatorial Director of Lisson Gallery, which collaborated with Meijer Gardens on the exhibition. “The work carefully selected by the artist and thoughtfully installed at this venue offers a truly memorable experience not to be missed. Meijer Gardens has a special magic, and Lisson Gallery has been proud to collaborate with them on projects with Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor, two of the world’s great artists.”
Ai Weiwei has emerged as one of the defining cultural voices for the 21st century. Known to work in a wide variety of contexts and scale, his ability to transform materials to share his ideas, concerns and vision has given rise to a critically acclaimed and widely appreciated body of work. Among recent work is his colossal Iron Tree, acquired and installed in 2015 in honor of Meijer Gardens’ 20th anniversary.
“It has been an extraordinary experience to work with Ai Weiwei on this highly unique exhibition, as he has been extremely involved in every level of decision making and detail,” states Joseph Antenucci Becherer, Chief Curator and Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections at Meijer Gardens. “With more than 30 works installed across galleries, conservatories and public spaces, this fascinating and thought-provoking collection of works is quite unlike any exhibition Meijer Gardens has ever mounted.”