Ai Weiwei: Unbroken will be on display at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto until June 9th, 2019.
Have you ever seen an artwork and thought (or felt) it was wrong on so many levels? The one piece in Ai Weiwei's exhibit that absolutely had me questioning his artistic ability was the large-scale LEGO representation of the Chinese zodiac.
When seen from a distance it looks like a series of slopping paintings with drips down the front of the canvas. As if the dripping paint effect wasn't enough the colours clashed horribly. If you dare to try to see through it, it looks as if the animals of the Chinese zodiac had been run through some type of horror filter.
Taking into account that the works are a representation of cultural artifacts that were looted from The Garden of Perfect Brightness in Beijing by British and French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War you begin a mindful transition to understanding Ai Weiwei's inspiration. Once you add in the fact that he was aiming for the colour juxtapositions of Andy Warhol with a nod to pixelized representation the work becomes more palatable to the senses and much more easily understood.
The challenge for the viewer is to not look away. Explore that unpleasantness to find out if it is justifiable. Generally, you can start by reading the labels accompanying the piece/s in the gallery or museum.. If those don't suffice Google is your best friend.
The other works on display at the Gardiner Museum in the Ai Wei Wei: Unbroken exhibit were not unpleasant to look at. Upon reflection the unpleasantness of the viewing experience would be nowhere near as unpleasant as Ai Weiwei (and countless others) living the experience.
Maybe that is why the photograph accompanying Ai Weiwei: Unbroken is an image of him holding his eyes open. We need to see. We need to understand. We need to change.