Ai Weiwei's Ton of Tea has No Borders for Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and Arnolfini

By Ben Miller | 06 December 2012
A photo of a large black block made out of tea leaves on a wooden plinth in a gallery
Ai Weiwei, A ton of Tea (2007© Ai Weiwei

Exhibition Preview: No Borders – Contemporary art in a Globalised World, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol, December 15 2012 – June 2 2013

In exhibition terms, Ai Weiwei could be said to be as universally popular as a good old-fashioned cuppa.

His work here, the explanatorily-titled A Ton of Tea, is appearing in the UK for the first time. And mimicking all the simple-yet-potent joys of a brew, Weiwei has dried and compressed the leaves of the widely-drunk Chinese blend, Pur Er, into a block, drawing on his time with minimalist American artists in 1980s New York and nodding to Bristol’s trading history as a mercantile port.

There are lots of reasons why its acquisition by the city’s flagship museum – as part of an influx of contemporary art including a site-specific wall drawing by Shilpa Gupta, bought with a £1 million Art Fund award – is a triumph of collaboration: the Arnolfini’s Director, Tom Trevor, has curated the show with the host venue’s Curator of Visual Art, Julia Carver, bringing together a multi-national cast.

“It’s a stunning collection in its own right which we hope to build on in the future,” says Julie Finch, the head of Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives.

“It adds new meaning to the museum’s historic collections. Works such as A Ton of Tea will remain in Bristol as a lasting legacy, and we are sure future exhibitions in the series will draw visitors to see works by these high-profile artists.”

Trevor says his official role, as Associate Curator of the Art Fund’s “important and ambitious” International collection, has been “an honour”.

“The aim was to encourage a radical change in the scale and ambition of contemporary art collecting in the UK,” he explains.

“The collection in Bristol has taken the museum’s historic collections from Africa, China and the Middle East as its starting point and, at the same time, sought to consider Bristol’s history as a port city and a site of international trade and exchange.

“In many ways, this has challenged the core principles of the museum. I applaud the openness and vision of all involved.”

  • Open 10am-5pm (6pm Saturday, Sunday, Bank Holiday Monday, 2pm December 24, closed December 25 and 26). Admission free. Follow the museum on Twitter @bristol_museum.

More pictures:

A photo of a design in the shape of a large gold wavy flag with words on it in a gallery
Shilpa Gupta, There is no Border Here (2006)© Shilpa Gupta
A photo of various sculptures in the form of multicoloured blinds hanging from a wall
Haegue Yang, Holiday for Tomorrow© Carl Newland
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