AI WEIWEI: Ceramics writes art history

On the occasion of the European Capital of Culture Salzkammergut 2024, an important exhibition was opened on 12 June 2024 in the Kaiserpark, the Kaiserstallungen and the Marmorschlössl in Bad Ischl, which brings Chinese and Austrian history into a fascinating dialogue.

A dialogue between art and history

On display are works by the renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, which deal with the earliest Chinese dynasties, among other things. In addition, there are important archaeological finds from the Hallstatt period, which enable a unique encounter between art and history. The Hallstatt culture, one of the most important prehistoric cultures in Central Europe, left behind impressive archaeological artefacts, including ceramics, jewellery and tools. These come from the collections of the Upper Austrian Provincial Museum and provide an insight into the life and culture of the Hallstatt period.


Historical artefacts as a source of inspiration

The exhibition in the Marmorschlössl shows these objects not only as historical artefacts, but also as a bridge to our ancestors and a source of inspiration for contemporary art. The archaic artworks by Ai Weiwei are an ingenious addition to the historical artefacts. The result is an exciting dialogue that raises questions about identity, tradition and human heritage.


Encounter of cultures in the Kaiserpark

In the Kaiserpark, visitors can experience an exciting encounter between the Marmorschlössl and an original 400-year-old Chinese mansion from the Qing dynasty. At the same time, Ai Weiwei’s monumental zodiac heads enter into an exciting dialogue with the imperial villa. Ai Weiwei’s ‘Zodiac Heads’ are a reinterpretation of the fountain figures that once stood in front of the imperial summer palace in Beijing and were destroyed during the first Opium War. Now they correspond to the summer residence of the former Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I in Bad Ischl, where he signed the declaration of war on Serbia that was to lead to a global tragedy. Despite the cultural differences, the juxtaposition shows how closely the two cultures are linked.

Crossing borders - Ai Weiwei and Gmundner Keramik

One of Ai Weiwei’s most important installations in Bad Ischl is ‘Combat Vases’, which is also his most recent work. Ai Weiwei worked closely with the Gmundner Keramik Manufactory to realise it. The handcrafted prototype produced in Gmunden in February of this year, which faithfully reproduced an original NS helmet from the Upper Austrian Provincial Museum in ceramic, impressed Ai Weiwei so much that he sent a video message to master ceramist Roland Hüttmayr thanking him for his extraordinary achievement.


Political symbolism and historical references

The multi-layered artwork ‘Combat Vases’, which was subsequently created in Gmunden, consists of 175 ceramic helmets precisely arranged in the south stable of the Kaiservilla. They symbolically refer to the current geopolitical situation and simultaneously allude to the critical phase of the Salzkammergut during the NS era.

Images: ©Michael Maritsch