Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many of the exhibitions in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern – particularly the fantastic Weather Project in 2003 - but Ai Weiwei’s work, called Sunflower Seeds is a hugely dull affair.
Here’s how the work is described on the Tate Modern website:
Sunflower Seeds is made up of millions of small works, each apparently identical, but actually unique. However realistic they may seem, these life-sized sunflower seed husks are in fact intricately hand-crafted in porcelain.
Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape.
What’s completely scuppered any hope of enjoying the “seemingly infinite landscape” is the fact that visitors have been banned from walking over the seeds because of health and safety concerns over dust.
With any kind of personal interaction with the space declared verboten, you’re basically looking at what may as well be a heap of gravel. And that’s really not very interesting to look at.
Has that guy really brought along his golf clubs?
Oh look! A room full of gravel!
Things get slightly more interesting if you get close up to the seeds, but seeing as you can’t touch them, walk on them or do anything but just look at them, it’s a yawn inducing experience.
Let’s face it: it’s not an interesting view, no matter how you spin it, but that hasn’t stopped Juliet Bingham, Curator of the Tate Modern serving up a veritable tornado of hyperbole:
“Ai Weiwei’s Unilever Series commission, Sunflower Seeds, is a beautiful, poignant and thought-provoking sculpture. The thinking behind the work lies in far more than just the idea of walking on it. The precious nature of the material, the effort of production and the narrative and personal content create a powerful commentary on the human condition. Sunflower Seeds is a vast sculpture that visitors can contemplate at close range on Level 1 or look upon from the Turbine Hall bridge above. Each piece is a part of the whole, a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses. The work continues to pose challenging questions: What does it mean to be an individual in today’s society? Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together? What do our increasing desires, materialism and number mean for society, the environment and the future?”
A last look at the Turbine hall before going off to check out the far more rewarding ‘St Judes in the City‘ exhibition at the Bankside gallery.