Ai Weiwei unveils first-ever exhibition of glass sculptures in Venice

On the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Ai Weiwei unveils his first show of glass works, including one of the largest Murano glass sculptures ever

Portrait of ai weiwei ahead of venice exhibition glass sculpture
Portrait of Ai Weiwei with detail from his sculpture La Commedia Umana, Photography: Edward Smith
(Image credit: Edward Smith)

Ai Weiwei is known for many things; glass, until now, has not been one of them. But a major show in Venice is putting the artist’s first-ever sculptures in glass centre stage, following a three-year project conceived in Murano. As Ai said of the material, ‘Glass, a special material and a part of our daily life, bears witness to joy, anxiety and worry in our reality. In its presence, we reflect upon the relationships between life and death, and between tradition and reality.’

Running alongside the 59th Venice Art Biennale and created in collaboration with Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore-Benedicti Claustra Onlus, Berengo Studio and Fondazione Berengo, the exhibition uses expertly crafted glass to convey the radical, subversive themes for which Ai is best known: increasingly fragile, polarised societies, ever-fraught relationship with natural ecosystems, and the darker, lesser documented corners of history. 

Ai Weiwei Venice glass sculpture in shape of skeletons and bones

Installation view of Ai Weiwei's glass sculpture La Commedia Umana at Venice’s Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore. Photography: Francesco Allegretto

(Image credit: Francesco Allegretto)

Against the dramatic setting of Venice’s Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, the show’s pièce de résistance is La Commedia Umana, a 9m-high suspended sculpture involving 2,000 pieces of black glass handcrafted by the maestros of Berengo Studio in Murano. The twisting, cascading chandelier-like sculpture – one of the largest hanging sculptures made in Murano glass in living history – is a sinister theatre of objects including bones, organs, bats and surveillance cameras. 

‘This vast hanging sculpture in black glass defies definition, nothing like it has ever really been seen or realised before. Part of its beauty is it remains a mystery, a human tragedy, a comedy, a tangled mess that we each must seek to unwind in our own time,’ Adriano Berengo, founder of Berengo Studio and Fondazione Berengo, said in a statement. ‘It is a work that stirs emotions, that forces us to come to terms not only with our own mortality but with the part our lives have to play in the greater theatre of human history.’ 

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Portrait of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in his studio with brick background

(Image credit: Ai Weiwei Studio)

La Commedia Umana, which debuted in Rome earlier this year, sits alongside eight new glass works, including Brainless Figure in Glass, 2022, a self-portrait conceived through modern technology and manual sculpting, and everyday objects, such as Glass Takeout Box, 2022, a symbol of globalisation (first created as a marble piece in 2015), and Glass Toilet Paper, 2022. As well as the artist’s glass debut, the show also features some of the artist’s greatest, and most recent hits in porcelain, wood and Lego.

A film chronicles the installation of Ai Weiwei's glass sculpture La Commedia Umana in Venice

Ai Weiwei Venice glass sculpture in shape of skull and bones

Detail of La Commedia Umana by Ai Weiwei

(Image credit: TBC)

Skulls, part of Ai Weiwei Venice glass sculpture

(Image credit: TBC)

Ai Weiwei glass sculpture

Top and above, details from La Commedia Umana by Ai Weiwei

(Image credit: TBC)

Ai weiwei venice glass sculpture venice

Installation view of Ai Weiwei, 'La Commedia Umana – Memento Mori' at Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore. Photography: Francesco Allegretto

(Image credit: Francesco Allegretto)

Installation view of Ai Weiwei, 'La Commedia Umana – Memento Mori' at Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore. Photography: Francesco Allegretto

Installation view of Ai Weiwei, 'La Commedia Umana – Memento Mori' at Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore. Photography: Francesco Allegretto

(Image credit: Francesco Allegretto)

INFORMATION

Ai Weiwei, 'La Commedia Umana – Memento Mori' runs from 28 August - 27 November 2022 at Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore. 

ADDRESS

Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore
Island of San Giorgio Maggiore
30124 Venezia

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Harriet Lloyd-Smith is the Arts Editor of Wallpaper*, responsible for the art pages across digital and print, including profiles, exhibition reviews, and contemporary art collaborations. She started at Wallpaper* in 2017 and has written for leading contemporary art publications, auction houses and arts charities, and lectured on review writing and art journalism. When she’s not writing about art, she’s making her own.