31 May – 31 December 2024

AI WEIWEI – WATER LILIES #1

In the summer of 2024, Ai Weiwei, a highly celebrated voice in the world art, will be setting up his installation Water Lilies #1 (2022) at Ordrupgaard. This spectacular work comprises more than 650,000 Lego bricks and, with an impressive length of fifteen metres, it is Ai Weiwei’s biggest Lego work to date. The enormous installation reconfigures one of the most iconic impressionist paintings, namely Claude Monet’s equally monumental triptych Water Lilies (1914–26), now at MoMA in New York. Whereas Monet excludes any hint of his own sorrowful life in his depiction of the tranquil beauty of the water lily pond, Ai Weiwei inserts a black portal among the colourful water lilies, thus unlocking the narrative about his formative childhood years spent with his father in a Chinese work camp. The exhibition shows how Monet’s painting is woven into Ai Weiwei’s gripping life story to re-emerge as a confrontation with the systematic suppression of the freedom of speech, which the now exiled artist, and his father before him, have experienced on body and soul in their native China.

In Water Lilies #1, Ai Weiwei (b.1957 in Beijing) has replaced Monet’s exquisite brushwork and colour scheme with mass-produced plastic bricks in twenty-two predefined garish colours. Whereas Monet’s painting presents an almost superterrestrial beauty in the French painter’s garden in Giverny in the early part of the twentieth century, Ai Weiwei has inserted an unsettling dark portal among the water lilies. It represents the door to the dugout on the outskirts of the desert in the Xinjiang province, where Ai Weiwei spent five years of his childhood without light and water with his father, the famous poet Ai Qing, exiled since the Anti-Rightist Campaign in the People’s Republic of China. “All my works have to have a connection with my personal story,” says Ai Weiwei about this black portal in the garden paradise. ”I would never do a work for the so-called pure beauty. I think that the beauty only comes through your struggle.” In the installation, Ai Weiwei also draws parallels between his father’s imprisonment in the 1930s and that of his own in 2011, when he spent eighty-one days in, what he calls, a ’black hole’, without being formally charged.

In a video created specifically for the exhibition, Ai Weiwei unfolds the captivating family story that shaped him as a human being and as the system-critical activist and world renowned artist that he is today. With its underlying political message, the exhibition adds a new voice to the topical debate on the freedom of speech and systematic censorship. Immense beauty and grief, art and politics, past and present are interspersed in Ai Weiwei’s at once playful and imposing reconstruction of Monet’s water lilies.

The exhibition is generously supported by: 

Ny Carlsbergfondet

Jørgen Krygers og Anne Ammitzbølls Fond

Beckett-Fonden

Hoffmann og Husmans Fond

Dansk Tennis Fond

Ai Weiwei, Water Lilies #1, 2022. Photo Ela Bialkoskwa og Okno Studio. Courtesy provided by the artist and Galleria Continua. 

Ai Weiwei, Water Lilies #1, 2022. Photo Ela Bialkoskwa og Okno Studio. Courtesy provided by the artist and Galleria Continua.