LONDON (Reuters) – Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei unveiled his latest large-scale project in London on Wednesday, a 15-metre-long recreation of Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” made with nearly 650,000 Lego pieces, in a tribute to his late father.
Titled “Water Lilies #1”, the artwork is one of the centrepieces of Ai’s new “Making Sense” exhibition at London’s Design Museum – his biggest UK show in eight years.
Re-imagining Monet’s famed landscape, Ai, a critic of the Chinese Communist Party who was briefly detained by police and lived under house arrest, is honouring his father.
Ai added a dark spot on the artwork to depict the door to the underground dwellings in China’s Xinjiang province where his family lived in forced exile after his father, the poet Ai Qing, was labelled an enemy of the state.
“He studied in Paris as an artist in the 1920s and later I and him were exiled. There’s a black door I integrated into this Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ because Monet is an artist my father liked. So, this is really a memory piece,” he told Reuters at a press preview.
The piece is Ai’s largest Lego creation but the artist is no stranger to the medium. His 2014 installation “Trace” comprised 176 Lego portraits of political prisoners from around the world.
“Making Sense” also includes another new Lego artwork, “Untitled (Lego Incident”), one of five vast “fields” featuring hundreds of thousands of objects laid out on the gallery floor. The toy bricks in the piece were donated by members of the public after Lego briefly refused to sell their products to Ai in 2014.
Also on display are some 200,000 porcelain spouts from Song dynasty tea pots, thousands of fragments of Ai’s porcelain sculptures which were destroyed when his Beijing studio was demolished in 2018, as well as around 1,600 tools dating from the late Stone Age.
It contains 42 new works, never before seen in London and many works on public display for the first time because the art is quite a scale in terms of numbers or quantity, Ai, 65, said.
“Ai Weiwei: Making Sense” runs at the Design Museum from April 7 to July 30.