Ai Weiwei talks with curator Tessa Praun,
January 31, 2012.
For larger image, start the film and click on the symbol in the lower right corner of the video frame.


My meeting with Ai Weiwei in Beijing in the fall of 2010 was the starting point for our work on this exhibition. At the time Ai Weiwei had been under house arrest for a few days. He was calm but already then keenly aware of how precarious and unsafe his situation was. A lot has happened since then. In April 2011 Ai Weiwei was arrested on unclear charges and detained for three months in an undisclosed location. During the past year his situation has made him well-known far beyond the art world.

Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing. At the end of the 1970s he co-founded the avant-garde artists’ group Stars. In 1983 he moved to New York where he joined the community of exiled Chinese artists, musicians and architects, and also became a part of the American intellectual and artistic scene. Ai Weiwei returned to China in 1993 and he has since become a prominent figure in contemporary Chinese art. In recent years his activism for social change in China has consumed more of his time and he has become one of the most outspoken critics of the regime. China’s development under the last century from empire to the socialist republic it is today with its singleparty rule, driven by a new capitalist spirit, has largely taken place at the cost of its citizens’ personal freedom. In reaction to this Ai Weiwei raises the issue of individual freedom and personal responsibility as the only way to a functioning and humane society.

Ai Weiwei’s artworks are often grounded within a Chinese context, yet they remain accessible to an international audience. His visual expression has both sensitivity and enormous power and he takes up subjects that are of concern even to us in Sweden. He likes to choose objects with great cultural or symbolic value for the Chinese and then deliberately treat them without the slightest regard for their worth. The artworks can be seen as commentary on the disdain that Mao’s Cultural Revolution showed the past as well as a way for Ai Weiwei himself to dispatch with conventional notions about art and its value.

Ai Weiwei alternates between the roles of artist, blogger, political activist, architect and curator. It is precisely this broad definition of his work that makes his art so fascinating and relevant today. The events of the past year have made it even more important to recognize Ai Weiwei’s activism and his commitment to freedom of speech and democratization in his country. For this reason we have set up a reading room within the exhibition space, making it possible for visitors to gain more insight into the artist’s socially-engaged work, which is the motivating force behind everything he does – be it an art installation, investigative documentary filmmaking or writing on his blog. Our programming will be in focus even more than usual during the spring season. Magasin 3 is organizing a series of talks about topics such as democracy, the preconditions for contemporary art in China, Internet and the role of the social media in the struggle for freedom of speech, and the impact that totalitarian regimes have on the arts. These events are arranged in collaboration with ABF, Bio Rio, Goethe Institut, Moderna Museet and Swedish PEN/Kulturhuset, Hotade ord.

Unfortunately, Ai Weiwei is not able to visit Stockholm in connection with his exhibition at Magasin 3. Since his release in June last year he has been forbidden to travel, to be active on the Internet or to speak to the media. To me this makes it all the more important to present Ai Weiwei in his first solo exhibition in Sweden and to continue making his voice heard.

Tessa Praun
Curator Magasin 3

How to get here
Magasin 3, Frihamnen
”My voice is not for me. Every time I speak I think how many people had a voice that no one could hear.”
”Without the Internet, I would not even be Ai Weiwei today.”
”I think art is a tool to set up new questions.”


In 2007 Ai Weiwei created the project Fairytale for Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany (considered to be one of the world’s most important art events.) Documenta started in 1955 and has taken place every five years since 1972. Ai Weiwei wanted to work outside of conventional art forms and create instead something with people. He arranged for 1001 Chinese citizens of different ages and backgrounds to travel to Kassel free of cost over the period of the exhibition. Two hundred people at a time spent a week in the city and could visit a unique art event while at the same time being part of it.

The project was inspired by the Brothers Grimm who were from the region of Kassel and whose collections of fairytales still are read to this day. In order to further emphasize the presence of the Chinese in the city Ai Weiwei had 1001 antique Chinese chairs from the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) transported to Kassel. The chairs were placed throughout the Documenta exhibition spaces for visitors to use, thus representing the Chinese visitors. Ai Weiwei’s Fairytale is a contemporary story that challenged the preconceptions and attitudes of the participants themselves and the people who were in Kassel in the summer of 2007.

Different parts of this project can be seen in the exhibition at Magasin 3 (lower level).

World Map

World Map, 2006–2009
Cotton and wooden base 120 x 800 x 400 cm Faurschou Foundation

“China is blindly producing for the demands of the market… My work very much relates to this blind production of things. I’m part of it, which is a bit of a nonsense.”

– Ai Weiwei

Although dealing with complex issues Ai Weiwei’s artworks are often beautifully simple in their visual expression. World Map is a three-dimensional work made of thousands of layers of thin cotton cloth. The map is created in a way that makes it extremely labor-intensive to install, illustrating China’s status as a platform for cheap labor in the clothing industry. The challenge lies in getting the thousands of pieces to fit together as perfectly as possible.

The work focuses on the individual as opposed to the masses, there- by also emphasizing the country’s leading roll in global trade. China is the world’s largest producer of cotton and a leading manufacturer of textiles and clothes. The difficulty of assembling the parts that make up the work also provokes thoughts regarding national and international unity.


Stool, 2008
Stools from the Qing Dynasty (1644 –1911) 68 x 38 x 65 cm
The Zagury Collection

Though grounded in references to China, Ai Weiwei’s work speaks to an international audience by exploring the tensions between juxtaposing elements: old and new, stability and change, control and freedom. One aspect of the artist’s working method is the playful manipulations of existing objects. Ai Weiwei is fascinated by the materials and techniques of traditional craftsmanship, and has a vast knowledge of Chinese antiques. In a series of sculptures Ai Weiwei re-used building materials from old houses and temples; doors and window frames from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) were used in new structures. Antique tables, chairs and stools were taken apart and re-assembled into new objects using traditional methods. The original function has disappeared and the new objects have their own inner logic.

Stool is composed of two stools from the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). The stools have been freed from their original historical value and in the new object functionality and the laws of physics no longer hold. The work is not created from a sense of nostalgia for the past but rather created in order to shake up conventional notions about culture and to question established values. The artist’s actions are a commentary on the often bizarre reality of contemporary Chinese society, with modern China having come about at the cost of the personal freedom of its citizens.

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds, 2009
Porcelain, 5 tons
Size varies depending on the installation
Faurschou Foundation

A pile of sunflower seeds. A graphic black and white installation with seemingly identical seeds that we all recognize. However, on closer inspection, it becomes clear that the seeds are inedible and made of porcelain. Sunflower Seeds provokes thoughts regarding the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the mass production that permeates a large part of our society. In 2010 Ai Weiwei captured the imagination of the international art world when he filled the entire floor of the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern in London with many millions of these individually made sunflower seeds. The present work at Magasin 3 is a rendition of this installation, which exists in several different versions (500 kg, 5 tons, 10 tons).

China has a long history of producing porcelain of the highest quality. The city Jingdezhen in southeastern China is known the world over for its fine porcelain and was the court supplier for many centuries. Ai Weiwei turned to the town’s inhabitants and commissioned them to produce the sunflower seeds for his work using traditional methods. A total of 1600 people were actively engaged for two and a half years in making millions of sunflower seeds. Every porcelain seed was hand painted with the characteristic black and white pattern. The work is a commentary on China’s status in the world as synonymous with mass production, and Ai Weiwei emphasizes the individual as an essential part of the masses.

”I always take action when it’s needed.”

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The conversation took place at Moderna Museet, Stockholm, May 8, 2012.
In English.

View the filmed conversation here:

For larger image, start the film and click on the symbol in the lower right corner of the video frame.

The panel discuss the following questions:
What is unique for the Chinese contemporary art scene? What makes it different from the West? The relationship individual / collective – it is possible to “read” that in the art? The personnel resources that exist in connection with the creation of art in China – it is a strength or a weakness? Can art be free in a non-democracy?


Lars Nittve, Executive Director of M+, Hong Kong.
Jérôme Sans, international curator and Director of Creation and Chief Editor of the magazine L’Officiel Art. Former director of Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing.
Uli Sigg, significant collector of contemporary Chinese art.
Karen Smith, writer, critic and curator based in Beijing.
Moderator: David Neuman, founding director of Magasin 3, Stockholm, and affiliated professor at Stockholm University.

Lars Nittve

Lars Nittve was born in Stockholm in 1953. After studies at the Stockholm School of Economics and a M.A. at Stockholm University he served as lecturer in art history at the University of Stockholm during the period 1978-85. During the same period he held a post as Senior Art Critic at the daily Svenska Dagbladet, Stockholm, and contributed regularly to Artforum magazine, New York. In 1986 Nittve was appointed Chief curator at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, where he curated a large number of high profile exhibitions – among them Walter De Maria, Kandinsky in Sweden, Hilma af Klint and the seminal Implosion – a Postmodern Perspective. 1990-95 he served as founding Director of Rooseum – Center for Contemporary Art – in Malmö, Sweden. In 1995, Nittve became Director of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark, where he also curated the exhibition Sunshine & Noir – Art in L.A. 1960-1997. In the spring of 1998, he was named the first Director of Tate Modern, London, which opened in May 2000.

In 2001, he took up his post as Director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm where he also, in 2004 co-curated the thematic exhibition Fashination about the dialogue between art and fashion, and Time and Place: Los Angeles 1957-1968 (2008); Antony McCall (2009) and Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting (2010). During his time at the Moderna Museet he initiated a campaign for strengthening the collection – including The Second Museum of Our Wishes, which focuses on bringing more works by women artists into the collection and raising 70 million USD. The creation of the Renzo Piano designed Pontus Hultén Study Gallery, The American Friends of the Moderna Museet Inc. and the Moderna Museet Malmö, opened in 2009.

Lars Nittve has served on the jury of numerous international prizes and been on the board of large number of international art organizations. He is the author of several books on art, as well as articles in journals and catalogues in Sweden and abroad. In 2009 he was awarded a Ph.D. H.C by Umeå University, Sweden, where he also since 2010 is Professor in Art History. He is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Art. In the end of 2010 Lars Nittve left his post as Director of the Moderna Museet. Since January 2011 he is the Executive Director of M+, the future innovative museum of visual culture in the West Kowloon District in Hong Kong.

Jérôme Sans

Jérôme Sans is an internationally renowned curator, cultural agitator and pioneer. Jérôme Sans, former director of the ground breaking Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing and co-founder and founding director of the acclaimed Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Currently he is the Director of Creation and Chief Editor of the magazine L’Officiel Art.

Uli Sigg

Uli Sigg, born 1946, grew up in Switzerland. He completed his studies with a Ph.D. of the University of Zurich’s Law Faculty. He then worked as journalist and editor for various Swiss newspapers and magazines. From 1977 to 1990 he joined the Schindler Group where he held positions as Area Manager for Asia Pacific and later Member of the Group Executive Committee and Shareholders Board. In 1980 he established the first joint venture between China and the West and remained its Vice Chairman for ten years. He then served on the boards of a number of global companies until 1995 when the Swiss federal government appointed him the ambassador to China, North Korea and Mongolia for four years. Upon his return to Switzerland he re-assumed the chairmanship or board membership of several multinational companies such as Ringier Media Group, Vitra Design Co. Infront Sports and advisor to Herzog De Meuron architects. Presently he also serves as member of the Advisory Board of China Development Bank and other Chinese entities. Altogether he spent many years in China, following the opening up of China and its contemporary art scene from day one, and he has formed a substantial collection of contemporary Chinese art with over 2000 works. In 1997 he established the Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCAA), an art award for Chinese contemporary artists living in China, and, in 2007, the CCAA Art Critic Award. He is a member of the International Council of New York MoMA and International Advisory Council of Tate Modern, London. Works from the Sigg Collection will next be exhibited in National Portray Gallery, Canberra, September 2012.

Karen Smith

Karen Smith moved from England to Beijing in 1992. Since that time she has become known as a writer, critic and curator, specializing in China’s new art; contemporary practice in the post-Mao era. In January 2006, she published Nine Lives: The Birth of Avant-Garde Art in New China (Scalo, Zurich; updated edition Timezone 8, Beijing, August 2008). She has written widely on photography, including The Chinese; Photography and Video Art from China, pub. Kunstmuseum Wolfsberg 2004, Reinterpretations: A Decade of Experimental Art in China, for Guangzhou Triennial, 2002, China Portrait of a Country, pub. Taschen, 2008; Chen Man, a monograph on China’s leading fashion photographer, pub. 3030 Press. Other books include a monograph titled Ai Weiwei for Phaidon Contemporary Artist Series, and Bang to Boom: Chinese Art in the 1990s.

Her curatorial work includes The Real Thing at Tate Liverpool, 2007, as well as museum projects including the Watarium, Tokyo (Crack in the Continent, 1997), Kunstmuseum Wolfsberg, Germany (The Chinese, 2004), and Queen’s Museum, New York (Yue Minjun solo show, 2007). Work with arts organizations and galleries include Revolutionary Capitals: Beijing in London, ICA, 1999, Illumination; Ai Weiwei and Tibetan Plateau, Beijing Girls: Liu Xiaodong both at Mary Boone Gallery 2008. Recent exhibitions include Subtlety, at Platform China Beijing 2008, China Portrait of a Country (December 2008); Music to My Eyes (April 2009); Hive (April 2011): Penetrate: Shi Jinsong Solo Exhibition (May 2011) all at Today Art Museum, Beijing. Karen’s latest book As Seen: Seminal Works by Chinese Artists is out May 2012.

Moderator: David Neuman

David Neuman is one of the founders and the director of Magasin 3. After 25 years the institution has evolved into one of Europe’s leading venues for contemporary art and with it’s collection created a major art museum.

During his years at Magasin 3 David Neuman has created a number of important exhibitions of artists like Bruce Nauman, Agnes Martin, Fred Sandback, and also the Swedish artists Annika von Hausswolff and Lars Nilsson. David Neuman is affiliated professor at Stockholm University’s education for aspiring curators.