Jan 28, 2012


Mary Boone Gallery
January 7 - February 4
541 West 24 Street, NYC

How many Chinese does it take to create
130 million hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds? 

Ai Weiwei knows the answer.

1,600 artisans in the Chinese town of Jingdezhen sculpted and hand-painted over 130 million ceramic seeds.

Ai Weiwei's  current installation at the Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea is a smaller version of the original commissioned by the Tate Modern in London.  The Tate allowed visitors to walk, sit, run or recline on the installation.  It turns out that a toxic dust was given off from all that perambulating. Visitors had to be prevented from stomping on the seeds, as is the case at Mary Boone Gallery.  But no matter.  Whether or not you can interact with the seeds in a tactile way or from afar, it's still worth taking a trip to the gallery.

If you want to buy a sunflower seed... Sotheby's sold 100,000 seeds weighing 220 pounds for $559,394 which equals $5.60 a seed.  Perhaps, if you received a tax bill for $2.8 million, you would also have to think on a monumental scale.
Photo by Peter Mauss.  For use of this photo contact Peter Mauss @ESTO Photographics.
According to Richard Dorment reporter for The Telegraph, Ai Weiwei "chose to reproduce sunflower seeds in porcelain because during the famine years under Mao they were one of the few reliable sources of food, comfort and social interaction.  For him they symbolize the Chinese people..."
Perhaps in a similar frame of mind, but with a very different motive, Sasha Gong and Scott Seligman have written The Cultural Revolution Cookbook.   Gong contends that  this restrictive and terrifying regime caused people to use what they had, which was very little and produce simple, but tasty dishes.  The book is a collection of recipes, historical narrative and personal memories.

For WeiWei food is symbolic of comfort, for Gong food is comfort.  For the visitor looking at the sunflower seeds, its massiveness cannot fail to impresses, even in its altered form.  In 2007, I was in Berlin Hamburger-Bahnhof Museum. The lobby was filled with a carpet of gold candies, a piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
The question I am still asking myself is: 
How is the intention of Gonzalez-Torres piece different from Ai Weiwei's sunflower seeds?
Answer:  The Gonzalez-Torres piece is much better for the dentists.


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