One of the most significant works in the new Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei exhibition will be staying in Melbourne permanently. Speaking at the opening of the exhibition on Thursday night, Ai donated the major installation Letgo Room to the National Gallery of Victoria. Made from more than two million Lego-like bricks, the piece pays tribute to Australian human rights activists who have become symbols for a broader movement – much like the artist himself.
Constructed by a team of nearly 100 local volunteers and artists on directions from Ai, Letgo Room features portraits of 20 Australian activists who have fought for justice and equality on issues including asylum seekers, women's rights, social welfare and freedom of information. Among those depicted in the work are family violence campaigner Rose Batty, barrister Julian Burnside, indigenous activist Dr Gary Foley, journalist Peter Greste, transgender icon norrie mAy-welby and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who Ai met in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London earlier this year.
The Letgo Room received considerable media attention ahead of its construction after Lego refused Ai's bulk order of bricks on the grounds that Lego "cannot approve the use of Legos for political works." Many saw the refusal as being itself political, with the artist pointing out that the company had just inked a deal to open a Legoland in Shanghai. The decision sparked outrage on social media, while many galleries and museums around the world set up Lego donation points, where art lovers could drop off their excess bricks for use in Ai's art.
Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei at the NGV is now open to the public.