Palazzo Strozzi in Florence launches the first Italian retrospective of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei – Ai Weiwei. Libero 23th September 2016 22nd January 2017


Ai Weiwei. Libero, the first Italian comprehensive retrospective of the iconic Chinese artist, will open to the public at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence this Friday 23rd September 2016. The show is curated by Palazzo Strozzi’s director Arturo Galansino, marking a brave shift in the overall curatorial approach of the Florentine institution. For the first time since its foundation in 2006 the space of the XV Century building will be rearranged as a new comprehensive exhibit location, overcoming the traditional separation between the contemporary art devoted basement (Strozzina space) and the main floor (piano nobile) of the Strozzi Palace, which up to the present has been home to the major exhibitions of Modern, Renaissance and earlier period art.

For almost a week residents, tourists and passers-by have enjoyed the installation “Reframe”, a taster of the show consisting of the impressive display of 22 orange lifeboats hung over the mullioned windows of the Palace’s main floor. The boats’ upside-down U shape match the silhouette of the bifora windows, adding  a layer of haunting grid covers to them and producing an oppressive prison-bar sensation when viewed from the inside of the building. 


Ai Weiwei’s artistic practice has always been permeated with political activism, since the focus of all his art is on the criticism of the Chinese government’s censorship and the denouncement of the oppression in his own country. Since the worsening of the refugee crisis in Europe last year, Ai has turned his attention to the conditions of the thousands of migrants who brave the Mediterranean waves to flee wars and hunger in their own countries, in an attempt to raise awareness on the enormous challenge that Europe and the whole world are not giving an adequate response to. The installation follows the 2015 work in Berlin where Ai Weiwei wrapped up the pillars of the city’s Konzerthaus venue with 14.000 refugee discarded life vests, arrived in Germany from Lesbos, the Greek island that has sadly become a gateway for refugees into Europe.


Photo courtesy Getty Images

The Florentine retrospective will be showcased across the entirety of the Palazzo Strozzi spaces, invading the façade of the building, the courtyard, the piano nobile as well as the Strozzina gallery and presenting new and major works that encompass a wide range of medium: key video works, assemblage and installation pieces from the past three decades. New commissions include a Lego portrait series, while two more works will be on display at Mercato Centrale and at Uffizi Gallery, responding to the hosting architecture and providing an immersive complement to the main exhibition venue. The marble work Surveillance Camera will sit in the aisle of the statues of the Gallery, in response to the Corridoio Vasariano, the XV Cen corridor, epitomizing power and control over the city, that was built to provide the Medici’s family with a safe passageway from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti.


Surveillance camera 2010 Image courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio.©Ai Weiwei

In Surveillance Camera Ai Weiwei sourced marble from an imperial Chinese quarry to craft a perfect, polished surveillance camera that is at the same time extremely precious and menacing while impotent in marble. The artist here shows his great ability to add devious meaning to his works, playing with invaluable and history-loaded materials and ordinary ready-mades, thus creating ambivalent and meaningful artworks.

Ai Weiwei Libero

September 23th 2016 – January 22nd gennaio 2017

Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza degli Strozzi, 50123 Firenze