By Mark Ferguson.

I delayed seeing “Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei” as I couldn’t see how pairing these artists could work. However, the curator has insightfully highlighted the artists’ commonality beyond sharing initials. Both artists scrutinize the soft power of their nations at the height of their governments’ campaigns. Andy Warhol celebrates the new consumerism and celebrity of post war American. Ai Weiwei bravely exposes the excesses and obfuscation of the Chinese government as it emerged from decades of Moaism. Andy Warhol uses the cultural images from his time.  Ai Weiwei reaches deep into China’s history for traditional crafts and even ancient artifacts to precisely but subtlety advocate his mission.

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In  the NGV International exhibition separated galleries compares the works of the  artists categorized by the media used  or subjects explored. Both artists use readymades, wallpaper, balloons, photographs, films, photography, and publishing to represent flowers, cats, injustice, cultural icons, and consumerism.

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Both artists draw beautifully. Ai Weiwei early drawing is elegant and academic – learned while his father, the poet Ai Qing, was being “re-educated”   during the Cultural Revolution. Even at this time – when the most subtle dissent was not tolerated – Ai Wei Wei drawings distinguish themselves from traditional Chinese landscapes. Andy Warhol’s elegant drawing style – before Pop – earned him fame in illustration and fashion as a young man. His varying line and incomplete colouring continue to influence illustrators and designers today.

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Both artists cultivated celebrity to propagate their ideas. Their studios are part of their celebrity – Andy Warhol working from The Factory and Ai WeiWei working from FAKE Design. Andy Warhol’s magazine “Interview”, films like “Trash” and the cable TV program “Famous for 15 minutes”  propagated his brand beyond his art. Ai Weiwei’s outspoken and brave activism through social media and symbolic gestures ensures his respect outside China and generates hope within. However, Andy Warhol was interested in the commerce and celebrity of art whereas Ai Weiwei seeks to change his government.

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Both artists suffered for their celebrity. Andy Warhol’s was severely wounded by Valerie Solanas’ attack. He suffered from her gunshots wounds for the rest of his life. Valerie Solanas’ appalling stunt advocated her one woman radical feminist group called SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men). Ai Weiwei was bludgeoned on the head by the Chengdu police while researching the child victims of the shoddily built schools that fell during Chengdu earthquake. He later required life saving brain surgery in Germany while he was installing the heart breaking show of 5000 schoolchildren’s backpacks spelling the words “She lived happily on this Earth for 7 years”. The audio of Ai Weiwei’s arrest is extraordinary – where the police claim he hit himself on the head and tore his own clothes.

After the comprehensive Warhol shows around the region in the last few years you may feel you’ve seen enough but I encourage you to overcome any apprehension to learn more about Ai Weiwei and see Andy Warhol from a new perspective.

Story by: Mark Ferguson

Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei,
NGV International
11 Dec 15 – 24 Apr 16
http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/andy-warhol-ai-wei-wei/

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