Seeds of change

The world-famous Ai Weiwei's work arrives in Seville

One of Ai Weiwei's works on display at the show at La Cartuja, a former monastery in Seville. / paco puentes

Five tons of the 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds with which Ai Weiwei covered the floor of the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall welcome you to his new retrospective at Seville's Andalusian Center of Contemporary Art (CAAC), the first devoted to the notorious Chinese artist to be held in Spain.

As famous for his influence on the art world as for his fierce opposition to the Chinese regime, Ai employed 1,600 artisans to handpaint 150 tons of the fake seeds for the original 2010 installation, which he later divided into separate batches for sale. The portion now in Andalusia -- 3.3 million seeds -- has to be viewed surrounded by the security measures imposed by the lender: they are cornered off by a barrier and an alarm sounds if anyone succumbs to the temptation of carrying away a souvenir.

Ai might well have wished otherwise, but he was unable to supervise preparations for Resistencia y tradición (Resistance and tradition) or attend the show's opening last week as he is prohibited from leaving China, where he faces tax evasion and pornography charges and was jailed for a spell in 2011.

On paper, Sunflower Seeds may be the biggest draw, but it has a serious competitor in the spectacular Descending Light (2007), an enormous Maoist red lamp that occupies the central space of the center. A metaphor of the decadence of the Chinese communist regime, the piece has only been on display once before, in New York when it was created for the Mary Boone Gallery, and is now owned by Helga de Alvear. The Spanish collector has lent other pieces for the show, including 268 Fake, which carries the same name as Ai's Beijing studio and features images of his everyday life taken for his blog while the Chinese government allowed (2005-2009), and Colored Vases (2008), a collection of Neolithic pots defaced with industrial paint, meant as a reflection on the destruction of China's cultural heritage.

Ivorypress, where he exhibited in 2009, has also lent Ai's famous 1995 photo triptych showing the artist dropping a purportedly priceless Han dynasty urn.

Ai Weiwei. Resistencia y tradición. Until June 23 at Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Monasterio de la Cartuja de Santa María de Las Cuevas, Seville.

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