The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is to have his first exhibition in Greece, where he has spent the past few months documenting the plight of refugees. The Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens will present a mini-survey of Ai’s career in May, including a new marble sculpture inspired by the museum’s archaeological collection as well as works made in response to the refugee crisis.
The show, titled Ai at Cycladic (20 May-30 October), reflects the artist’s fascination with ancient materials and techniques. Cao (2014), a field of marble grass that was shown in the artist’s blockbuster show at the Royal Academy last year, and Grapes (2011), a semi-spherical bowl created out of Qing dynasty stools, will be among the 25 works on display.
Michael Frahm, the director of the Blenheim Art Foundation who is organising the Athens show, says the Cycladic museum’s historic collection “speaks to Ai’s appreciation of the past and his hope for the future”. The museum is dedicated to ancient cultures of the Aegean and Cyprus, particularly Cycladic art of the third millennium BC. “Ai’s work often looks to the past for its inspiration and as an artist he has often worked with materials that have deep cultural associations,” says Frahm, who previously worked with Ai on his 2014 exhibition at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.
It was during a trip to the Cycladic museum in December that Ai first visited the Greek island of Lesbos. The artist was so shocked by the humanitarian disaster unfolding there he extended his stay by several days, eventually moving his studio there. “He’s up at 5am, spending time with people, he practically lives there,” says Aphrodite Gonou, who advises the museum on its contemporary art programme. “It has completely changed his life.”
The exhibition will benefit refugees, with 10% of all exhibition takings, merchandise sales and sponsorship funds going to a number of hand-selected NGOs working throughout Greece.