Ai Weiwei, The Last Supper in Pink
Ai Weiwei: know thyself
Sep 14, 2023 – Mar 30, 2024
Berlin, Germany

neugerriemschneider is pleased to present know thyself, Ai Weiwei’s fifth solo exhibition with the gallery. Opening at our Christinenstrasse location to coincide with Berlin Art Week and the fall edition of Gallery Weekend Berlin, Ai here continues his extended engagement with imagery created from Lego bricks to reassess, de- and reconstruct or contextualize anew works from throughout art history and the contemporary media landscape. Using a traditionally playful, immediate, generationally and geographically ubiquitous medium to analytical, critical extents, Ai shapes a veritable survey of both the Western cultural canon and of his own artistic trajectory.

Throughout his body of work Ai has returned to Lego bricks time and again, laboriously harnessing pieces by the hundreds of thousands to interrogate the parameters of imagemaking and production, honing his use of the material and expanding its representational and theoretical capacities to shape facsimiles of well-known works of art and other popular media. Honoring Marcel Duchamp and his legacy of the readymade, Ai deploys the mass-produced objects for adaptations of preexisting motifs, translating and often modifying them within his own social and political contexts, the angular components mimicking the pixels that coalesce to become today’s digital, widely and infinitely distributed imagery.

For his exhibition at neugerriemschneider, Ai presents eight such interpretations in Lego. Know Thyself (2022), which lends the show its name, finds its base in a mosaic from the first century CE, initially discovered along Rome’s Via Appia and now housed in the city’s Baths of Diocletian. Ai makes use of vanitas messaging, along with the imperative to “Know thyself,” written in Greek, to existentially, life-affirmingly reflect on the complex interfaces, contrasts and overlaps between past and present, while morphing the source’s irregular four-sided tiles to their modernized analogs.

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For Nord Stream (2022), Ai departs from reproductions of canonical works and turns his focus to a contemporary news photograph showing the result of the ruptured Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline – a nearly frame-filling whirlpool set against a blue field of waves that encapsulates over two decades of heated international relations. Here, Ai brings to mind his own career-long political involvement and activism, expanding on his past work around migration to Europe across treacherous waterways, and questioning the dichotomy between international concern for human lives and that for resources and capital. The image itself and its large-scale maelstrom possess a visual magnetism, wavering between abstraction and representation in a mode that alludes to both the Pollock and Monet tributes on view.

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