Ai Weiwei Is Selling New Sculptures at a German Home-Goods Store—But You Have to Assemble Them Yourself

The Chinese artist's low-cost, readymade work comes in a range of sizes and two different configurations.

Ai Weiwei & HORNBACH, Safety Jackets Zipped the Other Way (2020).

The Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei and a German home improvement store have collaborated on a work of art aimed at the mass market. Ai and the Hornbach DIY chain have launched a self-assembly soft sculpture, which comes with an instruction manual and authentication certificate.

The collaborative project with Hornbach is a piece of “democratic art” that “makes a clear statement in the discussion about the contemporary art market,” according to a statement. The artist added that it is meant for everyone, “not just collectors or museum goers.”

The work is formed by interlinked high-visibility jackets that hang on a simple structure of steel rods. The jackets are zipped together to form a circle, resembling the ghost of huddled bodies. The work, which is called Safety Jackets Zipped the Other Way and is available for order online, references two of Ai’s early works from the 1980s that featured army raincoats zipped together.

The orange jackets recalls the life preservers worn by migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean, a highly political object for Europe that has reoccured in Ai’s work and campaigning on behalf of refugees.

Ai Weiwei & HORNBACH, Safety Jackets Zipped the Other Way (2020).

According to an artist statement in the accompanying publication, Ai was immediately inspired by the invitation from Hornbach to make an original work using readymade parts available at the retailer. The artist, who recently moved from Germany to the UK described selecting the components in the DIY store as being like “a child in a candy shop.” Unlike many of Ai’s sculptures, which are made in China, the components of Safety Jackets Zipped the Other Way are made in Germany.

In the spirit of democracy, Ai’s sculpture can be reconfigured depending on your taste and available space. It can be floor standing or hung on the wall on hooks without the metal structure. You can make the work from four, five, or seven jackets for the wall version. The smallest wall version is available for €150 ($160) and the largest standing piece is priced at €500 ($545).

The manual for Safety Jackets Zipped the Other Way doubles as an artist publication. It includes a statement by Ai about the piece as well as a conversation with the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, plus a certificate of authenticity.

“Art belongs to everyone,” Ai declares in the accompanying manual. “Everyone can be an artist, or has the opportunity to create art,” he adds, invoking the spirit of Joseph Beuys.

Ai is not the first artist to collaborate with a retail brand though his work has a much lower price point than Jeff Koons’s or Takashi Murakami’s recent collaborations with the luxury brand Louis Vuitton on a series of handbags. Last year, the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson collaborated with home designer IKEA on a solar-powered lamp among other products.

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