Blenheim Art Foundation opened its inaugural show ‘Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace’ in October 2014 to critical acclaim. A radical game of juxtaposition between the contemporary Chinese dissident artist and the emblem of traditional, old-world England, this was a bold initiative never taken before at Blenheim.
The exhibition showcased many of Ai’s most celebrated works, which were placed both within the Palace and in the surrounding grounds. The display embraced the juxtaposition of old and new, decorative and minimalist, traditional and avant-garde. A focus on traditional craftsmanship, daily domestic life, power, class, hierarchy and liberty pervade both the history of Blenheim Palace and Ai’s practice, creating interesting and unprecedented parallels between two seemingly distant cultures. The inclusion of Ai’s canonical objects – based and constructed from crafted domestic furniture – nestled amongst Blenheim’s own wares and treasures – created uncanny visual disjunctures, making viewers look twice; a game of spot-the-Weiwei.
With the artist still detained in China at the time, the exhibition was the result of a close collaboration between Ai and the Foundation and, at the time of opening, was the most comprehensive survey of his work in Europe.