Ai Weiwei at the YSP


Last Sunday we drove over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. We wanted to have another look at the Ursula von Rydingsvard exhibition we visited earlier this year and see the exhibition of works by the well known Chinese artist Ai Weiwei which was installed in the old Georgian chapel since our last visit to the park. It was a beautiful late summer’s day too so we thought it would be nice to have a walk around the grounds and revisit some favourite works of art.

The YSP is based in the grounds of the Palladian mansion, Bretton Hall, which at one time was the home of Wentworth and, later, Beaumont families. It became a teacher training college in the late 1840’s and estate became the YSP in 1977.

The Chapel was built in 1744 for use by residents on the Bretton Estate. It has been recently restored  and today is an exhibition space for the YSP. It’s a relatively simple Palladian building built of local sandstone and with minimal ornamentation. It’s most distinctive features are the “pepperpot” tower and the triangular pediment above the front entrance and four pilasters on the front facade.. Today entry is via the side door. The interior is relatively plain and has been painted white creating a light, airy space.


The exhibition is the first in the UK with new works by Ai Weiwei since his Sunflower Seeds installation in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in 2010, and only comprises five works. As his passport has been confiscated and he can’t travel, he communicate with the curators by e-mail when the exhibition was being organised.


Iron Tree, 2013, a six-metre high sculpture is located Immediately outside the chapel, in the front courtyard. At first glance it looks like a coherent whole – a tree in it’s winter state without it’s coat of green leaves. Closer inspection reveals that the branches are bolted together and don’t quite look right. This is because the individual parts are cast from branches from 97 different trees from a Chinese market.


Made from cast iron, the surface has rusted which, particularly in the bright sunshine, has given it something of a red-brown and lifelike appearance.

The other works are displayed inside the chapel.

Fairytale-1001 Chairs, 2007-14, is an installation of 45 wooden chairs based on his work created in 2007 in Germany where he set out 1001 chairs, each representing a Chinese citizen who could not travel. The YSP work is a “cut down” version to suit the space inside the chapel.

Ai has selected 45 Fairytale-1001 Chairs and has conceived an installation of nine rows of five chairs in the nave. Spaced so that each chair is solitary, they give heightened awareness of the collective and the individual.

Visitors are allowed, encouraged in fact, to sit on the chairs and contemplate in the peaceful space. Copies of poems by Ai Weiwei’s father, Ai Qing (1910-1996), are available to read. Ai Qing was a Communist, and his work reflects that point of view, but he later fell out of favour with Mao and the Chinese leadership and sent into internal exile in 1958, although he was “reinstated” in the 1970’s.  A reading of the poems by a member of the YSPs takes place on the first Sunday of each month at 2 o’clock for twenty minutes. We arrived at the chapel ten minutes before this was due to start so decided to sit down and listen.

Although the member of staff was clearly not used to giving poetry reading,with a respectful audience sitting and listening quietly, and other visitors respecting the request not to make noise, it was a strangely moving experience.

No photos are allowed inside the chapel, so I’ve taken this one, which shows he work without any visitors, from the YSP’s website


Lantern, (2014) is a sculpture of a Chinese lantern carved in marble from the same quarries used  to build both the Forbidden City and Mao’s tomb. . Map of China, (2009) is made of timbers reclaimed from demolished Qing dynasty temples and is meant to show how China is isolated from the rest of the world.

Ruyi, (2012); an abstract porcelain work, is displayed on the balcony. The YSP’s website tells us

Sitting somewhere between fungal organic form and human internal organs, this lividly-coloured porcelain sculpture is one of a number of Ruyi made by Ai Weiwei that take the traditional Chinese sceptre of the same name, used by nobles, monks and scholars for around 2,000 years.

An interesting and stimulating exhibition worth the trip alone. But there was more to see during a very pleasant afternoon in the Park


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