Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace

Posted on December 14, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

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Blenheim Palace


For years, I have wanted to visit the 18th century Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill and home of the Dukes of Marlborough; and finally last weekend, my friend and I joined a group to visit this splendid Baroque palace in Oxfordshire. We also managed to see Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei's exhibition before it ends on 14th December.

The exhibition is the artist's largest one in the U.K., showcasing more than 50 new and iconic artworks on display throughout the palace and its grounds. Interestingly, the Chinese connection is evident as the palace itself is filled with chinoiserie and Chinese porcelain pieces from the Qing Dynasty. It is a brave move for the new Blenheim art foundation to install contemporary art work by a provocative Chinese artist in such a historical setting, and the result is both compelling and puzzling.


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With no labels or information available, visitors walking through the historical rooms are confronted with art installations that probably make no sense to them. In the Red drawing room, the installation "He Xie 2012" composed of large pile of porcelain crabs covers most of the carpet in front of the fireplace. The crabs may look playful and intriguing (or mouth-watering to the Chinese tourists as they love eating crabs), but one would have to use a bit of imagination to understand the meaning behind them (apparently, they refer to censorship).

One interesting aspect of the exhibition is that some of the art pieces are quietly 'hidden' amongst the decorations and historical artifacts. i.e. the 17ft chandelier of glass crystals that resembles an upside down Christmas tree in the main hall and a pair of wooden handcuffs suggestively placed on the bed of Winston Churchill.


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The installation that seems most 'at home' is the "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold" in the Grand Saloon. The well-known sculptural pieces are the artist’s reinterpretation of the legendary bronze zodiac head statues that once surrounded the fountain-clock at Yuanming Yuan (Old summer palace), a former imperial retreat that was burnt down by the British and French troops during the Opium war. It's quite an irony to see these replicas being installed inside a British Palace after 154 years!


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We were very lucky with the weather because the rain stopped and the clouds cleared up as soon as we arrived, and we were blessed with blue sky and sunshine while we were at the palace. This allowed us to stroll in the beautiful garden and see the large outdoor installation "Bubble", comprises rows of shiny blue porcelain bubbles that resemble the Chinese chess game of Go to me.

Unfortunately, due to time constraint we did not have enough time to cover the entire garden, which I am sure will look marvelous in the summer; hence, I will have to make another trip in the future just to visit the gardens alone.


Blenheim Palace




This post was posted in Exhibitions, Architecture, Travel, Art, Chinese art, British heritage, Britain and was tagged with art and design exhibitions, Chinese art, heritage, Ai Weiwei, Blenheim Palace