Le Bon Marché department store on the left bank is currently home to Ai Weiwei’s first work ever created for a retail space, allowing him as he put it ‘to encounter a new audience’. Er Xi – Child’s Play – begins outside in the department store windows, showing a prelude to the works inside. Depicting fantastical creatures alongside a contemporary storyline, many refer back to recurring themes in his own previous works as well as paying homage to Paris through both his father’s work when he lived in Paris in the 1920’s and 30’s as a young poet (‘Paris, tu es absurde’) and references to Marcel Duchamp.
The delicate and ethereal creatures floating in the main atrium above the cosmetics department were inspired by the 2000 year old Chinese traditional children’s stories Shan Hai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Seas) which Ai Weiwei laments have been lost to recent generations due to the censorship laws imposed in the PRC. Made by master Chinese kite makers from bamboo and white silk paper, the works were constructed using traditional methods and took a year to complete. Several are left in bamboo skeleton form, without paper, so we can better appreciate the intricate craftsmanship.
A 20 metro long dragon, broken into four parts, fills the gallery space. Here you can also watch a short film of Ai Weiwei explaining how the exhibition came about, and how he feels about Paris.
Don’t miss the ‘selfie wall’ upstairs, reminding us of Ai Weiwei’s prolific use of social media. When asked about exhibiting in a store as opposed to a museum or gallery space, Weiwei says “People experience the art as they go about their day and something unconsciously happens”.
Er Xi is at the Bon Marché until 20 February
- Le Bon Marché, 24 rue de Sevres, 75007 Paris. metro: Sevres Babylone