Ai Weiwei unveils first show of glass sculptures in Venice


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

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. 

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

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

Detail of La Commedia Umana by Ai Weiwei

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