Claude Monet’s world-famous triptych Water Lilies 1914-26 will be recreated by artist Ai Weiwei for his new exhibition in London.
The French Impressionist’s inimitable brushstrokes that depict reflective landscapes are reimagined in a 15-metre work consisting of approximately 650,000 Lego bricks in 22 colours.
The piece, titled Water Lilies #1, will span the length of one of the walls of the Design Museum gallery in Kensington, West London.
The inaugural design-focused exhibition opens Friday, April 7, and runs through July 30.
In discussing the work, Ai said, ‘Without a personal story, artistic storytelling loses its quality. In Water Lilies #1 I integrate Monet’s Impressionist painting, reminiscent of Zenism in the East, and concrete experiences of my father and me in a digitized and pixelated language.
The inaugural design-focused exhibition opens Friday, April 7, and runs through July 30
The colors are more intense than in the Monet series and the work arrived at the museum in 10 pre-assembled panels
“Toy bricks as a material, with their qualities of sturdiness and potential for deconstruction, reflect the properties of language in our rapidly evolving era in which human consciousness is constantly dividing.”
The colors are more intense than in the Monet series and the work arrived at the museum in 10 pre-assembled panels.
It is the artist’s largest Lego artwork since he first embarked on the medium in 2014 to create portraits of political prisoners and will be the center of Weiwei’s biggest UK show in eight years.
Ai, who was born in China but now lives in rural Portugal, said: ‘Our world is complex and is collapsing into an unpredictable future. It is crucial for individuals to find a personalized language to express their experience of these challenging circumstances. Personalized expression comes from identification with history and memories while creating a new language and story.
In discussing the work, Ai said, ‘Without a personal story, artistic storytelling loses its quality. In Water Lilies #1 I integrate Monet’s Impressionist painting, reminiscent of Zenism in the East, and concrete experiences of my father and me in a digitized and pixelated language’
Water Lilies #1, 2022, by Ai Weiwei. The French Impressionist’s inimitable brushstrokes that depict reflective landscapes are reimagined in a 15-meter work made up of approximately 650,000 Lego bricks in 22 colors
In the original, Monet, who was born in 1840 and died in 1926, brings to life one of the lily ponds in the gardens of his home in Giverny, northern France, in a series of paintings that showcase the artist’s obsessions with water lilies.
The gardens and pond were gardens designed and landscaped by Monet.
For his version, Ai has used Lego bricks to “do away with Monet’s brushstrokes in favor of an impersonal language of industrial parts and colors.”
The museum’s chief curator, Justin McGuirk, said: ‘These pixelated blocks suggest contemporary digital technologies that are central to modern life, and hint at how art is often circulated in the contemporary world.’
To the right of the piece and “brazenly piercing the aquatic paradise” is a dark portal, McGuirk said.
According to Ai, this is the door to the underground hideout in Xinjiang where he and his poet father, Ai Qing, lived in forced exile in the 1960s.
Water Lilies #1 is featured alongside another major new Lego artwork from Ai, Untitled (Lego Incident).
For his version, Ai used Lego bricks to “remove Monet’s brushstrokes in favor of an impersonal language of industrial parts and colors.”
It is part of a series of five vast ‘fields’ where hundreds of thousands of objects will be sprawled across the gallery floor.
This field consists of thousands of Lego blocks donated by members of the public after Lego briefly refused to sell their products to him in 2014.
Another is fashioned from 200,000 Song dynasty porcelain teapot spouts dating from 960-1279CE.
McGuirk said: ‘Several works in this exhibition show the devastation of urban development in China over the past two decades. With Water Lilies #1, Ai Weiwei presents us with an alternative vision: a garden paradise.
‘On the one hand he personalized it by inserting the door of his childhood home in the desert, but on the other hand he used an industrial language of modular Lego blocks. This is a monumental, complex and powerful work and we are proud to be the first museum to display it.”
Other highlights of the exhibition include numerous objects and artworks from throughout his career that explore the tensions between past and present, hand and machine, precious and worthless, and construction and destruction.
Also shown are a number of examples of Ai’s ‘ordinary’ objects, where he has transformed something useful into something useless but valuable.
Large-scale Ai Weiwei works will also be installed outside the exhibition hall, in the freely accessible areas of the museum and outside the building.