Ai Weiwei’s Tree (2009–10) stands a towering five metres in height, and spans the same distance at its upper reaches. A commanding yet enchanting presence in Gallery B105, Tree is flanked to the west by the late Sol LeWitt’s experiment with colour and asymmetry, Wall Drawing No. 623 Double asymmetrical pyramids with colour ink washes superimposed, 14 November 1989–17 November 1989. To the east, ordered rows of crabapple trees are viewable through the tall windows behind Ai’s sculpture — twelve trees planted just so by landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander for the opening of Moshe Safdie’s National Gallery of Canada (NGC) building in 1988.
Ai’s significant oeuvre since the mid-1990s is indeed owed to a combination of attitude — felt palpably in the his guiding mantra, “Everything is Art, Everything is Politics” — and in the production of an exceptional caste of works created through the re-imagination of original parts that the artist himself did not produce. From Qing Dynasty tables cut and geometrically reshaped, to a Tang Dynasty vase painted with the immediately recognizable logo of Western consumption and all things “pop” — Coca-Cola — Ai imbues the Duchampian tradition of the readymade with a conviction attuned to contemporary geopolitics and aesthetic sensibility.