Ai Weiwei in Chelsea: “Sunflower Seeds” at Mary Boone Gallery

In April of 2010, renowned artist Ai Weiwei, one of the most acclaimed artists and activists of his generation, was detained/arrested/kidnapped by the Chinese government for 81 days. No charges made, no communication allowed to the outside world, almost-daily interrogations about his involvement in… well, we'll probably never know. EIGHTY-ONE DAYS! And this was a Chinese artist who, among his many other accomplishments, consulted on the Bird's Nest, the iconic stadium of the Beijing 2008 Olympics! Ai WeiWei Not exactly a low-profile individual, neither within his own country nor in the international community. For many in the art world–and, really, anyone paying attention–it was a scary reminder of how governments can act with zero shame or accountability if they so choose.   

Sunflower Seeds Exhibited by Artist & Activist Ai WeiWei

Now, none of the above, as electric and horrifying as it may be, is reason to go see Ai Weiwei's remarkable Sunflower Seeds installation at the Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea, which just opened last weekend and will be on display until early February in that bright, wood-beamed space. Nope, you should see Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds in Chelsea because, even lacking any sort of broader political context, it's just a pretty amazing sight, to have approximately three million sunflower seeds piled neatly in a room. Especially when you consider that each of these life-sized seeds is made of porcelain. And that each one was handcrafted and hand-painted by the artisans of the northern Chinese city of Jingdezhen, for centuries that country's center of porcelain production. AND that the astonishing number of seeds in Ai Weiwei's Mary Boone installation represents only about THREE PERCENT of the 100 million seeds that filled the vast Turbine Hall at London's Tate Modern. 

Whether three million or a hundred million, the point of Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds in Chelsea NYC is clear: China's massive labor force stands at the ready, and can accomplish just about about anything, no matter how gargantuan. And while Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds at Mary Boone made us wish more than ever that we had seen the original, vastly larger version of the pierce in London, especially during the show's first week or so, when they still allowed people to walk over the seeds, to hold them and lie in them and make "snow angels" or whatever anyone wanted to do, before fears that the dust kicked up by such activities might not be so great for people's lungs. That said, there's also something nice about this more intimate setting, in that we could really appreciate the seeds as individual works of art, in addition to being wowed by the sheer volume on display. Great stuff. 

Details for Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds at Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea

Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds will be at Chelsea's Mary Boone Gallery from now through February 4. Mary Boone Chelsea is located at 24th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. For more information about Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds, check out the Mary Boone Gallery website.  

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