Ai Weiwei at Blenheim

Oct 13th, 2014, 06:44 AM
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Ai Weiwei at Blenheim

Blenheim Palace - world famous throughout West Oxfordshire as the repository for more tasteless old bling objects than even Liberace could have dreamt of owning - has moved into temporary exhibitions of high-profile modern art.

The current Duke's second son, Edward Spencer-Churchill, has set up the "Blenheim Art Foundation", which says it "aims to give the greatest number of people access to the most innovative contemporary artists working today."

This is pretty rich: Blenheim gets just a million visitors a year - and charges them £22.50 ($37) while Tate Modern lets its 7 million annual visitors in for free. More likely, Spencer-Churchill wants to boost Blenheim visitor numbers during its off season by chucking in free displays of headline-grabbing modern artists.

His first exhibition, of Ai Weiwei. started on Oct 1, and goes on to Dec 14 (though from Nov 14, it's open only Weds to Sundays). It consists of 50 artworks scattered through the palace's normal visitor route - many so integrated into the place, they need considerable attention to realise they're not just part of the normal family ornaments and crockery on routine display. None are labelled: there's a £1 surcharge for a photographic catalogue pointing them out.

Unlike the palace's straightforward trinkets, paintings and statuary (many of which reflect high craftsmanship, though rarely much else) Ai Weiwei's objects are out to make a point.

Not, to be honest, a particularly interesting point. Ai Weiwei is under (sort of) house arrest in Beijing for being a dissident - but political heroism, dexterity and managerial skill don't add up to much real insight into the human condition. His works do turn a routine procession through a bog-standard 18th century country house, on steroids, into a more convincing reason than usual for keeping your eyes open - and often do make you realise how well-executed many of Blenheim's relatively bleh normal aretefacts are.

The idea of the exhibition was dreamt up while the artist was under arrest, and the exhibition was to a large extent designed and curated by Ai Weiwei himself. Famous artists' "house arrests" in modern China let them be given a full 3D tour of Europe's largest private palace, live via broadband, then let them juggle with objects, placement and computer simulations to end up with a better sense of how the exhibition looks than a paying customer. This is not the solitary confinement on the edge of the Taklamakan desert with a little light torture and an hour a day with Chairman Mao's works that await most Chinese dissidents.

Spencer-Churchill is non-committal about future plans for more art exhibitions at Blenheim: I expect he's waiting to evaluate the ROI of his first: he's a venture capitalist - using other people's money, of course - in his day job. Judging by the number of visitors yesterday obviously more interested in Ai Weiwei than the place's wall-to-wall Churchilliana, modern art may well be a real traffic generator.

And this first show is a real change from the normal dull hangings in glorified warehouses or soul-less full-time art galleries which is how we see most modern art. However trite many of Ai Weiwei's works are, they and the palace's grace notes and artefacts bring each other out - and tucked into a room with lots of stuff from a couple of centuries earlier is precisely how many serious art buyers do actually display modern sculpture at home.

A civilised society, in my view, would still bulldoze Vanbrugh's object lesson in why playwrights should stick to writing dirty jokes - at which Vanbrugh really did excel. But, given that we're stuck with the blight on our local landscape, this modern art lark does make going round the dump much less of a chore than usual.

Well worth a detour of - oh, at least 15 miles.
flanneruk is offline  
Oct 13th, 2014, 07:21 AM
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£22.50, I don't think my wallet is big enough to hold £22.50 let alone twice that.
bilboburgler is online now  
Oct 13th, 2014, 07:59 AM
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it's amazing how much "attractions" in the UK cost to visit, compared to similar elsewhere - The Uffizi is €6.50, for example. Even the colosseum is only €12 and that includes the Forum and the Palatine hill and museum.

£22.50 is definitely beyond my budget, Ai Weiwei or not.
annhig is offline  
Oct 13th, 2014, 08:50 AM
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"it's amazing how much "attractions" in the UK cost to visit, compared to similar elsewhere - The Uffizi is €6.50, for example."

The British equivalent to the Uffizi is free.
flanneruk is offline  
Oct 13th, 2014, 09:03 AM
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ah . . . but concessions are only £18 . . .

And that is for one visit or every day for a year. A ticket is actually a yearly pass. So not really all that expensive in the scheme of things (said w/ a straight face)

What amazes me is the possibility that flanner actually forked over cash to visit the pile

By comparison - in the States:

Biltmore House charges $29 - $75 (£18-£46) depending on season, time of day.

Hearst Castle charges from $25 to $36 (£15-£22) per tour. Many (most?) people take at least two different tours since each only covers a small portion of the house.
janisj is online now  
Oct 13th, 2014, 09:27 AM
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"So not really all that expensive in the scheme of things (said w/ a straight face)"

To be honest, not really anyone's business either.

It DOES matter that the Uffizi (and the National Gallery) are easily accessed by all citizens - and arguably by foreign tourists - though why we let them non-EU citizens in free is beyond me. And I'm not to hot on those EU people either. Free access to museums today, and it'll be access to our dole tomorrow. Oh, wait a minute....

It's no concern of anyone's how much a private business, of no relevance to anyone except its owners (and the descendants of the people dispossessed to hand it over to a pair of chancers) charges to let people be astonished at how one family can have such consistently awful taste for three centuries.

No-one's life is remotely the poorer for not wanting to pay the Churchills enough for them to stay in the manner they think they're entitled to. Anyone mad enough to fork out £22.50 (janisj's guessed right about the £18, and there are lots of reasons why I need to revisit the place several times a year) has only God's parsimony when She was handing out the common sense genes to complain about.
flanneruk is offline  
Oct 13th, 2014, 09:44 AM
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If it isn't anyone's business, Flanner, then why are you broadcasting this?
Dukey1 is offline  
Oct 13th, 2014, 10:11 AM
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We visited Biltmore.

The staff were a little shocked when I knocked my shoes off and got into a bed.

I returned the look of shock and told them that for the entrance price I was expecting a bed and full English at 8 in the morning.

Vizcaya Villa in Miami was a little bonkers.

We paid a lot to get in but a lot less than Biltmore. In the garden we stumbled on a huge spread of food and wine which gave you the impression that Putin was in town. We thought there was a wedding party, turns out the spread was including in the admission fee.
Dickie_Gr is offline  
Oct 13th, 2014, 01:33 PM
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flanner - i know that the british equivalent of the Uffizi is free. but OTOH it costs about £12 to get into virtually every National Trust or English Heritage site.
annhig is offline  
Oct 14th, 2014, 05:43 AM
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I enjoyed the Ai Weiwei exhibit when it was here at the AGO a couple of years ago. I wonder if his 'Backpack Snake' made it to the ceiling of Blenheim, or if 'bicycles' is displayed on the outdoor grounds somewhere. Both pretty interesting to see.
Mathieu is offline  

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