Ai Weiwei Wins Royal Retrospective

London -- In September 2015, hot on the heels of Anselm Kiefer, David Hockney, and Anish Kapoor, the Royal Academy will present a landmark exhibition of its Honorary Royal Academician, Ai Weiwei.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media doubt that Ai Weiwei -- under indefinite house arrest in China -- will even be allowed to attend the opening.

This show is the first significant British survey of his artistic output, and will include major works spanning Ai Weiwei’s career, as well as including new work by the artist.

Ai recently exhibited with the newly created Blenheim Art Foundation in its first-ever contemporary art exhibition. The works were displayed in the rooms and gardens of the 18th century Blenheim Palace -- the birthplace of Winston Churchill. More than 50 artworks by the celebrated Chinese artist and social activist were shown.

However, the Royal Academy's exhibition will be much bigger, occupying all of its Burlington House galleries.

The artist and activist has worked in a variety of different contexts, referencing Chinese art and culture through both the choice of traditional materials and interventions with original historic objects, as well as exploring international Western contemporary art.

The idea of creative freedom -- especially the increasingly political aspect of much of his work -- will be a prominent feature and underpin much of the exhibition. This is not surprising given that Ai Weiwei has variously suffered violence, detention, and denial of travel rights by the Chinese authorities.

Major Survey

Tim Marlow, who joined the RA as director of artistic programs earlier last year, said Ai had previously not had a major institutional survey in the UK. “He has claim to be amongst the most famous, if not the most famous artist in the world, but his art is not as widely seen as one might think.”

The plan is for the exhibition is for at least three big installations, said Marlow, with old and new work, as long as the Chinese authorities allow it out of the country. “We have contingency,” he added. “We have access to work that is already out of China.”

Marlow said Ai “wants the opportunity to show his work in great places and spaces - that’s how we support him.

“There is a sense of belief at this academy of creative freedom. We believe in the independence and creative freedom of artists and it seems to me Ai is an artist we should be backing.”

As a political activist, the artist has been openly critical of the Chinese Government's stance on democracy and human rights.

Ai has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called "tofu-dreg schools" in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Detained Indefinitely

In 2011, following the artist's arrest at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, he was held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of "economic crimes".

As a globally-recognized social activist, Ai Weiwei has not been able to leave China since 2011 when his passport was confiscated by Chinese authorities.

Yet the 57-year-old artist remains hopeful that he will be allowed to travel for the opening of the “landmark” exhibition, which will include a selection of new work, along with some of his most notable pieces, in September of this year.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video offers a brief interview with Ai Weiwei from his detention quarters in China.

Ai Weiwei Royal Academy 19 September - 13 December 2015