“If my art has nothing to do with people’s pain and sorrow, what is ‘art’ for? – Ai Wei Wei
Last week was my first time visiting Blenheim Palace, the stately home of the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Winston Churchill. It was also the only stately home with a title ‘Palace’ that did not belong to a member of royal family, but was a gift from Queen Anne to John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough for the victory of Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Designed in the English Baroque style which was very rare, by Sir John Vanbrugh, the stately home and its ground had been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
My visit was to view the largest exhibition of Ai Wei Wei’s works ever curated in the UK. Given his fame as a political activist against the Government of China, I thought that the exhibition of his artwork at Blenheim Palace was a symbolic one. After all, this was the birthplace of Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister who stood up against the fascist German Nazi during World War I, Blenheim Palace had always been steeped in history of war heroes from its inception, and Ai Wei Wei could also be counted as a modern day political war hero, for his outspoken criticism against the Chinese Government.
Upon entering the stately home, I was greeted with a giant contemporary crystal chandelier above the traditional English interiors which completely dwarfed everything else surrounding it. Dotted around the house were various pieces of Ai Wei Wei’s Chinese contemporary art pieces, intentionally mixed with Blenheim Palace’s own European art collection. This exhibition reminded me of one of my all time favourite art exhibition created by Banksy at Bristol Museum back in 2009, where Banksy’s artwork intervened with Bristol Museum’s house collection in a guerrilla like manner. I felt that Ai Wei Wei had taken a similar rebellious attitude here at Blenheim Palace, with his Chinese porcelain vase pained with Coca-Cola logo placed amongst Blenheim Palace’s prestigious statues, or his wooden hand cuffs which were placed casually on the bed in Winston Churchill’s bedroom, to name a few. From comments I could hear while at the palace, the exhibition was certainly controversial to many of the local visitors and some of the staff, who were not so familiar with Ai Wei Wei’s work. Many had regarded the whole installation as outrageous, which in a way, I suppose it was, but wasn’t that the point in the first place?
I have always thought that a master artist is not only one who has mastered the technical skills, but also possesses the ability to provoke and critique through one’s artwork…. Something that Ai Wei Wei has certainly achieved here at Blenheim Palace.
For those who have not been to this exhibition, I highly recommend you to do so because not only is it an excellent destination for a day out in the country, the exhibition will certainly evoke certain emotions within you whether they be confrontational or agreeable, and gives you something to think about regarding the state of the world we are living in today. I certainly felt the pain, the frustration and the hardship he had to face throughout his turbulent life from experiencing this exhibition.
The house also offers excellent catering facilities such as Searcy’s restaurant for fine dining, and Water Terrace Cafe for casual dining made from local produce, to name a few. For more information, please visit www.blenheimpalace.com for details. Otherwise, below are a series of photograph of my trip to the beautiful Blenheim Palace and some of my favourite pieces by Ai Wei Wei within its ground… Enjoy!
Thank you Serpentine Gallery for organising such a wonderful trip to this unique exhibition. It is by far the best art exhibition I have seen this year!