Absent Ai Weiwei stages major show in Berlin

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Photo - The artwork 'Stools' by Chinese artist  Ai Weiwei is displayed in the atrium of the Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum at the exhibition 'Evidence' in Berlin, Wednesday, April 2, 2014. The museum said with the exhibition 'Evidence' they present the largest  exhibition of Ai Weiwei . The exhibition will be open from April 3 until July 7,  2014. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
The artwork 'Stools' by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is displayed in the atrium of the Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum at the exhibition 'Evidence' in Berlin, Wednesday, April 2, 2014. The museum said with the exhibition 'Evidence' they present the largest exhibition of Ai Weiwei . The exhibition will be open from April 3 until July 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
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BERLIN (AP) — A prison cell, a pair of jade handcuffs and an installation built with rubble from a demolished studio: Dissident artist Ai Weiwei is drawing heavily on his troubles with the Chinese authorities at a spectacular new show in Berlin.

Ai has filled a floor of the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum with pieces large and small for his exhibition "Evidence," which opened Wednesday and was billed by organizers as his biggest yet. Ai is barred from leaving China, but still made his presence felt unmistakably in the selection of works.

"Some are related to my current condition, related to my concerns; some are more aesthetic presentations of the kind of concerns that I always have with art, art history," Ai said in a video message.

Ai, 56, is one of the world's most famous artists, celebrated abroad with exhibitions from Tokyo to London and known for his striking "Bird's Nest" stadium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But he has irked authorities at home by using his art and online profile to draw attention to injustices in China and to push for greater transparency.

Much of the new show is overtly political, reflecting on issues such as surveillance and environmental problems. On such work, "Mask," is a marble mask atop a tombstone, alluding to China's problems with smog.

Some pieces reflect tensions between tradition and modernization in China. Visitors are greeted by an atrium filled with more than 6,000 antique stools gathered from villages across China's north — uniform-seeming yet individual objects left behind by history. They also can see a set of Han dynasty vases covered in metallic auto paint — the vases' antique features overlaid by a symbol of modern consumerism.

Ai's own story is ever-present. Over the years, he has been alternately encouraged, tolerated and harassed by officialdom. In early 2011, a studio he had built in Shanghai was abruptly demolished; Ai used concrete and brick rubble from the site to create the work "Souvenir from Shanghai."

In April of that year, Ai was arrested and held for 81 days during a wider crackdown on dissent. On his release, it was announced that he had confessed to tax evasion and been slapped with a $2.4 million bill.

The Berlin show includes "81," a replica of his cell with a tiny window and naked light bulb. He's also exhibiting computers confiscated from his office and a jade replica of a pair of handcuffs.

Exhibition curator Gereon Sievernich said he visited Ai several times in Beijing and that, despite Ai's absence, "all the work here has been done from his studio."

"He has a team of 20 people and it was a perfect collaboration, and of course we used the Internet and all these tools we have these days," Sievernich said, adding that Ai also provided organizers with a short text explaining his thinking for each of the exhibition's 18 rooms.

Ai said in his video message: "I still hope I can come to see the show and share the moment."

The show opens to the public Thursday and runs through July 7.

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