Seen from a distance, Ai Weiwei’s “Sunflower Seeds” suggests a vast field of stones. But up close, as visitors to the Mary Boone Gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea will discover beginning January 7 (through February 4), the stones are, in fact, handpainted replicas of seeds made of porcelain. The installation, a smaller version of the one unveiled at London’s Tate Modern in 2010, will be composed of five tons of “seeds,” each one unique and crafted by artisans in a southern Chinese city famous for its porcelain production. (Made in an edition of 10, another of these sold at Sotheby’s last February for $559,394.) Like much of Ai’s work, “Sunflower Seeds” reflects on the collision of the traditional and the new. During the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao was likened to the sun—and the Chinese people, to the sunflowers who gazed adoringly upon him. But Ai has said that he also sees a metaphor for the work in Twitter: a sea of ideas made up of individual voices. At the preview of the Tate show, Ai snapped shots of the photographers in attendance. No word yet on whether the dissident artist, under house arrest since being released from government custody in June, will be free to make the trip to New York.
Photo: courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery