When a Sunflower Is Not a Sunflower

Chinese sculptor Ai Weiwei is a major talent. His often-giant work has been shown in Barcelona, Tokyo, and Munich, and is scheduled to appear soon in São Paulo and London. Soon, his “Owl Houses” series will appear at the Presidio — more on that later. Currently, he presents several of his porcelain-focused pieces, and one made of backpacks, Snake Bag. Our favorite, Kui Hua Zi, appeared to us as comic at first: It’s a giant pile of sunflower seeds. However, Ai is just barely old enough to have experienced firsthand China’s Great Leap Forward, a disastrous policy of Mao Tse-Tung’s that left large numbers of people with nothing to eat but sunflower seeds. Ai's seeds are not seeds, either, but handmade, lifesize replicas, hundreds and hundreds of them, in porcelain, a material invented in China and used there for practically everything. One thing it isn’t often used for is clothing, but here it makes dresses — cheap girls’ floral dresses — the material lending its dignity and permanence to something delicate, and the form lending odd movement to the finicky material. The “Owl Houses” are likewise porcelain, in very traditional blue-and-white designs that appear made to hold precious things, which they are.
April 15-May 29, 2010

 
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