The Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei has premiered three works at the 2013 Venice Biennale.


One, a series of floating wood stools and another, several dioramas of his much publicized 81-day stay in a secret Beijing prison.


The third, "Straight," is an expanded piece that debuted last year at the artist’s retrospecting, According to What?, at the Hirshhorn Museum on the mall in DC.


The massive installation significantly expands the Hirshhorn’s 38-ton pile of steel rebars, which were laid out in a low-lying pile, resembling, to some visitors, an earthquake fault.


That interpretation isn’t off the mark. Ai’s piece was created out of twisted steel rebar gathered from the site of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed nearly 5,200 children.


Ai has produced several artworks that deal with the tragedy. The earthquake gave his career a newfound cause and his work a cutting critical edge.


At Venice, Ai filled a room of the Zitelle Project Space, an old convent-turned-gallery, with 150 tons of the same steel rebar.


According to Biennale curator Maurizio Bortolotti, the intention behind the artist’s installations at Venice is clear: “He is making something right that was wrong.”

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Ai Weiwei Brings 150 Tons Of Rebar To Venice

The artist and dissident Ai Weiwei has erected a 150-ton landscape of steel at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

The 2008 Sichuan earthquake profoundly affected the sensibility of the artist Ai Weiwei. The tragedy, in which nearly 5,200 schoolchildren perished, emboldened Ai to not just speak up but to yell out at the human injustices that have accompanied China’s economic boom. The artist and dissident has produced several artworks that both explicitly and subversively articulate the state’s culpability in the widespread carnage wrought by the earthquake.

Several of these works were displayed at the Hirshhorn’s Ai Weiwei retrospective last year, According to What? One, a serpentine path of school backpacks mounted to the second floor ceiling, was weightless. A second, Straight, was all weight and compression. The latter showcased a low-lying 38-ton pile of steel rebar salvaged from the earthquake site. The rebar, which Ai collected on a site visit shortly after the earthquake, was twisted seemingly beyond repair; the artist and his team spent the better part of two years straightening out each of the bars.

Now, for the 2013 Venice Art Biennale, Ai has produced three large-scale installations, one of which is a second, expanded iteration of Straight. (The others include a towering collage of intersecting wooden stools and S.A.C.R.E.D., a collection of scale dioramas that recreate Ai’s 81-day imprisonment in 2011.) Much larger than its Hirshhorn counterpart, the Venice Straight stacks 150 tons of rebar that have been seemingly made new and even usable.

The work is laid out along the floor of one room of the Zitelle Project Space, an old convent-turned-gallery that dots a tiny island stranded in the Venetian lagoon. It forms a rolling landscape that, like many of the artist’s previous installations—such as the gigantic bed of ceramic sunflower seeds he sowed at the Tate Modern in 2010—requires the observer to crouch down to fully inspect the piece.

At the Hirshhorn, visitors described the piece as resembling an earthquake fault, which is certainly true. But unlike S.A.C.R.E.D., there’s far greater room for interpretation here. For one thing, the gallery containing the installation was once used to house orphaned working girls who sewed linens. On a different level, Straight is a complete abstraction that would be at home at any contemporary gallery, without the backstory. For Venice curator Maurizio Bortolotti, the intention behind the works is clear: "He is making something right that was wrong."

(h/t Designboom)

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