Ai Weiwei’s latest Paris show is at Le Bon Marche department store.

Ai Weiwei’s New Exhibit of Ethereal Creatures Ditches the Museum for the Department Store

Ai Weiwei’s New Exhibit of Ethereal Creatures Ditches the Museum for the Department Store

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
Jan. 28 2016 1:00 PM

Ai Weiwei’s New Exhibit of Ethereal Creatures Ditches the Art Gallery for the Department Store

Expo ER XI Ai Weiwei au Bon Marché oeuvre Le Heluo  ©Gabriel de la Chapelle
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s latest Paris show at Le Bon Marché department store.

Gabriel de la Chapelle

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has a new show in Paris. Not at the Louvre, where he participated in a group exhibition that closed earlier this month, or at a gallery like the Jeu de Paume in the Tuileries Gardens, which hosted a solo exhibition of his work in 2012. This time the dissident artist has created a series of original works for a show during the annual white sale at Le Bon Marché, a ritzy Left Bank department store.

Expo ER XI Ai Weiwei au Bon Marché oeuvre Taifeng  ©Gabriel de la Chapelle

Gabriel de la Chapelle

“Showing at Le Bon Marché is using a new medium, the department store, to encounter a new audience, as broad as a museum’s, one which doesn’t come for art in principle,” Ai said in a statement.

Portrait Ai Weiwei copyright Quentin Labail
Artist Ai Weiwei.

Quentin Labail

Le Bon Marché is now owned by multinational luxury goods conglomerate LVMH. But its tradition of blending art with commerce goes back to the mid-1800s, when founder Aristide Boucicaut was known to display his private art collection on the walls of the store.

Bon Marche 17 01 16 vernissage Expo ER XI Ai Weiwei @copyright Say Who

Say Who

Advertisement

Ai said that his poet father, Ai Qing, had spent three years studying art in Paris in the 1930s before being exiled to the Gobi Desert, where Ai Weiwei grew up listening to stories about Paris and tales from the ancient Shan Hai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Seas).

Expo ER XI Ai Weiwei au Bon Marché oeuvre Tianwu ©Gabriel de la Chapelle

Gabriel de la Chapelle

Le Bon Marché said that it had given “carte blanche” to Ai, who dreamed up two dozen lightweight bent bamboo and white silk dragon figures inspired by the Shan Hai Jing. Ai said he still has the first object he ever made at age 10, a kite that he constructed using bamboo torn from window shutters and string from his mother’s sewing box. This time, the now 58-year-old artist collaborated with a traditional Chinese kite-maker to construct the large-scale dragon kites that hover over shoppers in a show he has titled “Er Xi, Air de Jeu” (“Child’s Play”).

Bon Marche 17 01 16 vernissage Expo ER XI Ai Weiwei- copyright Say Who

Say Who

Divorced from the context of a gallery or museum space, the kites look more like ethereal interior design props than works of art by a political dissident. The concept of treating a retail space as a showcase for art only blurs the already blurry lines between art and design.

Bon Marche 17 01 16 vernissage Expo ER XI Ai Weiwei Oeuvre Le Heluo  - copyright Say Who

Say Who

Ai said in an interview for Le Bon Marche’s in-house magazine that while the store wasn’t “really an art space,” it was nonetheless associated with “trends and lifestyle,” and “the kind of place where I adore having my work shown; a place directly linked to the city, to its citizens.”

Bon Marche 17 01 16 vernissage Expo ER XI Ai Weiwei Oeuvre Le Dragon -copyright Saywho

Say Who

The show runs until Feb. 20.

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.