Ai Weiwei’s ‘258 Fakes’ Greets Visitors to Harvard Art Museums

The installation is comprised of 7,000 photographs.

As visitors enter the new Renzo Piano-designed galleries at Cambridge’s Harvard Art Museums, which opened to the public on Sunday, November 16, they will be greeted by “258 Fakes,” a two-story installation of more than 7,000 photographs by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

The piece is displayed on 12 television monitors mounted just past the main entrance, and can be viewed from a small footbridge. Its prominent placement before the admissions desk is meant to attract foot traffic, drawing visitors in to enjoy the rest of the collection. “258 Fakes” was acquired by the museum specifically for the new building (see “Critics Trash Renzo Piano’s Harvard Museums Expansion“), and is the first social media-related piece in its holdings.

The photographs, which change every four seconds, were taken beginning in 2003 by Ai and his friends using smart phones and small digital cameras. A cross between fine art and everyday snap shots, the images feature cats, food, art, architecture, protests, parties, and the artist and his fellow photographers, and were first posted on Ai’s blog and other social media accounts.

“We were looking for an artist who had a kind of global importance and was trying to dig deeply into images about art, but also about culture and politics at the moment to really signal a kind of new ambition for contemporary art,” chief curator Deborah Kao told the Artery at local NPR affiliate 90.9wbur.

"258 Fakes," Ai Weiwei, at the Harvard Art Museums. Photo: Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge.

“258 Fakes,” Ai Weiwei, at the Harvard Art Museums.
Photo: Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge.

“There are also images that look like they’re commercial photographs,” Kao added, “so a kind of documentation of food at a banquet could be in some kind of cuisine magazine.”

Though the dissident artist continues to be confined to his native country after his 2011 detention, ostensibly for tax evasion, despite widespread protests (see “Shepard Fairey Makes Ai Weiwei Poster to Fund Free Speech Organization” and “10 Images of Support for Ai Weiwei, Featuring Damien Hirst, Shepard Fairey, and Molly Ringwald“), Ai Weiwei’s work has been traveling freely, appearing at prominent venues around the world.

This year alone, Ai was honored with a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum, saw his Zodiac Heads bronze sculpture installation open in both Mexico City and Chicago (see “Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads Kept Under Wraps in Chicago“), and took over San Francisco’s infamous Alcatraz Prison with an art exhibition (see “Ai Weiwei Is Filling Alcatraz with 176 LEGO Sculptures“). He’s also launched a new meme (see “Ai Weiwei Creates New ‘Leg Gun’ Internet Meme“), delved into fashion (see “Ai Weiwei’s Fashion Collaboration a Fiasco“), and filmed (and subsequently protested) a science fiction movie (see “The Sand Storm Director Apologizes to Ai Weiwei for Exploiting His Name” and “Star Turn for Ai Weiwei in Science Fiction Movie“).

Despite his distance, the artist’s hand remains at play in these international exhibitions and projects. At Harvard, Ai used architectural drawings of the new building to design the layout of the monitors for “258 Fakes.”

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