Ai Weiwei Pops Up at a Beloved U.K. Dry Cleaner

In a partnership with Avant Arte, Ai Weiwei’s latest work is on display in East London’s Steam Room dry cleaners.

Ai Weiwei Guardian (2024) installation at The Steam Room. Image courtesy of Avant Arte.

Visitors to the beloved Steam Room dry cleaners in Haggerston, the U.K., are being welcomed by a new work by Ai Weiwei, celebrating the Lunar New Year. The screen print, titled Guardian (2024), has been released in partnership with Avant Arte.

The Steam Room, a dry cleaner and lifestyle store, has been open since 2004. Regarding their latest window display, owner Tony Chung has said that “having the opportunity to feature Ai Weiwei, a visionary in the art world, was an experience filled with both honour and awe.”

The Chinese artist is a multi-award winner, was a runner up in Time’s Person of the Year award in 2011, and has exhibited in some of the world’s most major institutions including London’s Royal Academy of the Arts and Tate Modern. He is known for his work that is critical of surveillance and government corruption, and was famously arrested in China on tax evasion charges in 2011.

The display of the artwork coincides with the Lunar New Year, the first day of which, February 10, saw us enter the Year of the Dragon. The Steam Room has been showcasing artworks in its window since 2020, and Chung said “embracing Asian artists during the Lunar New Year has become a heartfelt tradition.”

Ai Weiwei Guardian (2024) installation at The Steam Room. Image courtesy of Avant Arte.

Ai Weiwei, Guardian (2024) installation at The Steam Room. Photo courtesy of Avant Arte.

Guardian shows Ai in the role of the Door Guardian, a Chinese emblem, in traditional red and gold. The colors are associated with the Lunar New Year, with red believed to bring good fortune, and gold as the color of wealth and prosperity. Door Guardians are protectors against evil entering the home, and are attached to doors during festive seasons. Traditionally, every Chinese household will display a Guardian ahead of the Lunar New Year. Playing with this tradition, Weiwei’s Guardian is placed in the window of the Steam Room, immediately greeting guests and passersby.

Ai Weiwei, Guardian (2024). Image courtesy of Avant Arte.

Ai Weiwei, Guardian (2024). Photo courtesy of Avant Arte.

The Steam Room was first established as a Chinese takeaway restaurant by Tony’s father in the 1970s, and is now a favorite spot for British fashion designers including Henry Holland and Roksanda. Chung has a product design background and referred to his ability to platform artists at The Steam Room as “a way to honor our heritage and to fervently support the vibrant tapestry of creativity in our community.”

The artwork will be on display at The Steam Room through February 16. Copies of the print itself will be available for purchase via Avant Arte for a 24-hour period from 3 PM (GMT) February 15, priced at £565 ($714). The two-color silkscreen print features a metallic glitter base layer and is individually signed by the artist.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics