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Ai Weiwei

Sugar Pill

May 25–July 14, 2013

I think architecture can have huge educational value. It tells people about possibilities, and the way things can be changed, and that’s always on my mind.

— Ai Weiwei, 2011


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Ai Weiwei’s new work, commissioned by ‘T’ Space, combines freeform sculptures “landed” on two-dimensional images, all 150 x 150 cm, of previous works and events in the artist’s life. The sculptures relate to Ai Weiwei’s Divina Proportione (2006) which, like the sculptures in Sugar Pill, originated from blocks of Huali wood and use traditional interlocking joinery techniques of Classic Ming furniture. Unlike “Divina Proportione, which is based on geometry and mathematical precision, the forms of the Sugar Pill series are asymmetrical and subjective,” said Christophe W. Mao, director of Chambers Fine Art. The sculptures have a free form and shape, yet a strong sense of design, structure, architectural element and volume.

Sugar Pill 4 (87.3 x 69.9 x 53.8 cm) is placed on the “Image of River Crabs based on He Xie (2011) which, as Mao puts it, “commemorates the giant banquet Ai Weiwei organized before the destruction of his Shanghai studio although he was unable to attend it in person.  He had chosen crabs as in Chinese the word sounds similar to “harmonious,” used as a euphemism for censorship. Sugar Pill 5 (100 × 77.6 × 47.6 cm) is shown on “Image of MRI based on Brain Inflation” (2009), named for the brain scans created in Munich after the artist’s brutal Chengdu attack. Sugar Pill 9 (133.3 × 88.1 × 1.80 cm ) resides over “Image of Rebar based on Forge” (2008-2012), referring to twisted rebar in the rubble of the Sichuan earthquake.”

Mao continues: “by placing these beautifully crafted structures on visual records of violence and destruction, Ai Weiwei creates an imbalance that calls into question our perception of both components of the installation. It may be that “calling into question” is the distinguishing characteristic of everything Ai Weiwei does, whether dropping a Han dynasty vase, designing a simple building that rejects much of what is thought to be necessary and not least, confronting the government when the consequences can be dire.”

Why “sugar pill”? …The artist like any person (and like sugar granules) is an irregularity; no one is the same as any other; and with people the most clearly unique is the one that speaks its own meaning. But is this art act, this sugar pill, a mere placebo, with no actual therapeutic effect? The State would like people to swallow its sugarcoated pills of empty propaganda but any true act of language stands against such coercion. Given the intensity of State resistance and corresponding public support, his strong statements may well be strong medicine.

— George Quasha, 2013


The three new sculptures Ai Weiwei created for this “T” Space exhibition are crafted with interlocking joinery in the spirit of the house by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Each work sits on “wallpaper” recording Ai Weiwei events and works such as the River Crab Feast celebrating his Shanghai studio before its destruction by Chinese Authorities. We are pleased to have this reflective moment to think about contradictory characters.

— Steven Holl, 2013

Accompanying Events

Exhibition Catalogue

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