Spring ’18 Blog Post #2

Ai Wei Wei “Sunflower Seeds”

Ai Weiwei was born in Beijing, China in 1957. Ai Wei Wei infuses his sculptures, photographs, and public artworks with political conviction and personal poetry, often making use of recognizable and historic Chinese art forms in critical examinations of a host of contemporary Chinese political and social issues. In his sculptural works he often uses reclaimed materials—ancient pottery and wood from destroyed temples—in a conceptual gesture that connects tradition with contemporary social concerns. He also employs sarcasm, juxtaposition, and repetition to reinvigorate the potency and symbolism of traditional images and to reframe the familiar with minimal means. He is also one of the earliest conceptual artists to use social media – Instagram and Twitter, in particular – as one of his primary media.

In October 2010 he unveiled his commission for the Unilever Series at Tate Modern. The work consisted of millions of porcelain seeds made in the workshops of Jingdezhen, a town once famous for its porcelain and now struggling to find its place in the modern world. Ai Weiwei shows what can be done to help communities like Jingdezhen through art. Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today.


  1. How does Ai Wei Wei critically examine contemporary Chinese issues though the use of his chosen materials?
  2. Ai Wei Wei incorporates symbolism of traditional Chinese images in his work reframed though minimal means. What is an example of this in his work?
  3. What is the significance of the use of Porcelain in “Sunflower Seeds”?


Ursula von Rydingsvard “Luba”

Ursula von Rydingsvard was born in Deensen, Germany, in 1942. She received a BA and an MA from the University of Miami, Coral Gables (1965), an MFA from Columbia University (1975), and an honorary doctorate from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore (1991). Von Rydingsvard has described her background as influential within her practice. Born to Polish and Ukrainian peasant farmers, her early childhood was marked by the strain of living in eight different refugee camps over the course of five years in postwar Germany. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was still a small child. In form, process, and meaning, she sees her work as responsive to eastern European peasant traditions (Stormking.org).


Ursula von Rydingsvard’s primary material used in constructing Luba is four-by-four lengths of cedar wood, a material that, as the artist has said, “it seems to be I’m able to speak through.” Von Rydingsvard stacks, glues, and cuts into these beams freehand with a circular saw—an intuitive process that the artist has likened to the freedom and creativity that many artists associate with the process of drawing. Luba is the first work on a large scale that von Rydingsvard created in solid cedar.  On one side of the main form of Luba, a delicate appendage extends down to the ground; von Rydingsvard has said that it is intended to resemble the arm of a mother cradling a baby. The lower portion of this arm, supporting its spindly reach, is made of bronze and marks the first time von Rydingsvard has combined bronze and cedar into a single work. Highlighting the handiwork and a physical, tangible connection to her sculpture, von Rydingsvard then rubbed graphite into areas of the surface of Luba, emphasizing the shadow and depth of the circular saw’s cuts. I have seen this work in person a number of times at Storm King and when you get close to the sculpture you begin to smell “pencils” which is the use of the graphite in the work.


  1. What is Ursula von Rydingsvard’s process when creating “Luba”?
  2. How does Ursula von Rydingsvard’s childhood influence her practice?
  3. Why does Ursula von Rydingsvard incorporate the use of graphite in her large sculptures?


Minerva Cuevas “Feast and Famine”


Minerva Cuevas was born in Mexico City in 1975. She’s a conceptual and socially-engaged artist who creates sculptural installations and paintings in response to politically-charged events, such as the tension between world starvation and capitalistic excess. Several of the artist’s works take the form of re-branding campaigns—exhibited as murals and product designs—that question the role corporations play in food production, the management of natural resources, fair labor practices, and evolving forms of neo-colonialism.

From early inquiries into the use of cacao as currency in the pre-hispanic era, Cuevas began to investigate the cultivation of cacao in present-day Mexico, as well as the surrounding conflicts and commercial interests through Feast and Famine. Among the pieces produced for this exhibition are 500 chocolate ears, made especially from a crop of native cacao, Grano Real Xoconusco. Cultivated in the state of Chiapas, the majority of this cacao as well as the cacao produced in other parts of the country is exported for consumption across Europe. This piece functions as the nexus of various investigations that Cuevas has carried out in recent years. Conceived as a playful essay, Feast and Famine is an interdisciplinary project combining different aspects of anthropology, product design and economics.

  1. What roles are questioned through the re-branding campaigns exhibited through the murals and product designs?
  2. Why do you believe the artist incorporates the use of major chocolate brands in her exhibition?
  3. How is Feast and Famine considered an interdisciplinary project?

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