Review and photographs by Martin Benjamin
Let’s get this out of the way first. The best art and artist showing in Venice was showing work not officially included in the Venice Biennale, but rather has two separate exhibitions at other places in Venice, with one advertised as a “collateral event.” He does have an installation as part of the German pavilion offerings. Rather than being able to be in Venice, Italy to participate, Ai Weiwei is not permitted by his government to leave China.
The first Weiwei installation I visited, “Disposition,” was impressive enough by itself. Located at Zuecca Project Space, it was a room full of perfectly straight pieces of rusted steel reinforcement bars (rebar), arranged in a large room like a landscape or wave sculpture on the floor. In itself, it was evoking and powerful, but the back-story is what takes the piece over the top. Ai Weiwei wanted to make a piece about the 2008 earthquake that rocked Sichuan, China and that toppled poorly constructed schools killing more than 5,000 children. Associating poorly constructed schools that crumbled onto school children to the ongoing epidemic of corruption and greed of those in power in China does not require much of a jump. Weiwei traveled to these locations to investigate the ruins left behind and to find sub-quality construction, materials and engineering prevalent throughout the ruins. Without saying it, it is about corruption among officials in China causing the deaths of thousands of school children, motivated by greed and power.