Art Basel in Miami Beach Diary: George Clinton is in the pink, Alex Israel chills out, and life models draw a (drawing) crowd
December 6, 2023
First-time exhibitors praise Art Basel in Miami Beach, saying the expense and effort pays dividends
December 6, 2023
Art Basel in Miami Beach Diary: George Clinton is in the pink, Alex Israel chills out, and life models draw a (drawing) crowd
December 6, 2023
First-time exhibitors praise Art Basel in Miami Beach, saying the expense and effort pays dividends
December 6, 2023

Visitors to Art Basel in Miami Beach making their way past Galleria Continua’s stand this week may find themselves doing a double take, as they encounter what looks like the Renaissance painter Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus (1510) made supersize. In fact, the piece is a monumental Lego work by the artist-activist Ai Weiwei—one of two on view at this year’s fair.

Ai has been working with Lego since 2014, using the medium to replicate Old Master works and “tell a story between something very valuable, historical and something very capitalistic and contemporary”, says a representative from Continua. There is also—as always with Ai—a political edge, made clear by the motif of the coat hanger in the corner, an object associated with back-alley abortions. “It’s a commentary on the repression of rights, especially women’s rights,” the gallery representative says. The work—which had to be broken into ten panels to be moved—has been reserved. Continua declined to give a price, though it is understood to be above €600,000.

Over at Neugerriemschneider’s stand, an even larger Lego piece—Washington Crossing the Delaware (2023)—plays off Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting of the same name, which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The work depicts George Washington guiding soldiers across the Delaware River in 1776, during the Revolutionary War, to launch an attack on the Hessians—German soldiers who were hired by the British. It took Ai and his team of five around three weeks to produce, and comprises 350,000 individual plastic pieces.

The idea for the work came from Ai noticing the links in composition between the painting and a photograph of the US Navy recovering a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon from the Atlantic Ocean earlier this year. Ai has again inserted his own potent symbolism: an image of Beijing’s National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest—which he helped to design for the 2008 Olympic Games—appears on the left-hand side. At the time, the artist had positioned the stadium as an emblem of China’s move towards liberalism, but spoke of his disappointment as the government engaged in an aggressive security operation around the event. “Today, you see police everywhere; in every neighbourhood there is tight security, not just in Beijing, but everywhere in China,” he told The Guardian at the time.

“By growing from Leutze’s painting, a symbol of the triumph of democracy over the monarchy, this reproduction in Lego becomes a comment on the fraught political relations between China and the United States—and, by extension, between two oppositional political and societal models,” a Neugerriemschneider spokesperson says. The gallery declined to comment on the price of the work or whether it had been sold.

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