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Chinese Artist Reunites with Swiss Architects For Cultural Olympiad

  • Sarah Williams

Herzog, de Meuron and Ai Weiwei

Herzog, de Meuron and Ai Weiwei

The team responsible for the Beijing Olympic's Bird's Nest stadium will build a pavilion near the 2012 London Olympics

Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, one of the visionary’s behind Beijing’s 2008 Olympics Bird’s Nest Stadium, will have another chance at Olympic cultural gold this year. He has reunited with the two Swiss architects he worked with on the Bird’s Nest to build a new pavilion in London’s Kensington Gardens near the 2012 Summer Games.

Ai, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron are the latest in a long line of world-renowned design teams commissioned by the Serpentine Gallery to create the art center’s summer pavilion. This year’s exhibition is part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Julia Peyton-Jones, the gallery’s director, says the idea evolved naturally from the trio’s work on the Bird’s Nest.

Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron

Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron

“The three of them know each other extremely well, and as within all good working relationships, it’s a kind of discussion. So it’s something they continued, they really picked up where they left off, so to speak,” she said. “It’s a testament to their friendship and collegiality that they were able to design something so extraordinary for the presentation at the Serpentine.”

Herzog and de Meuron were awarded the 2001 Pritzker Prize, considered the world’s top award for architectural achievement. And Ai was one of the notables on TIME’s 2011 Person of the Year list.

The high-profile team communicates through Skype because Ai is prohibited from leaving Beijing until June. The artist, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, spent 81 days in prison last year on tax evasion charges that he says are politically motivated.

Working through the video chat program, the three have designed a plan to turn the lawn outside the gallery into a kind of archeological site.

“They are revealing the foundations and the characteristics and the legacies of the 11 previous pavilions which have been commissioned over those years,” said Peyton-Jones. “It brings back in sharp relief the many architects who have done projects with us.”

The plans include digging 1.5 meters below ground to reveal fragments reflecting the remains of past pavilions. A giant canopy will be used to increase the height of the exhibit to cover the newest installation.

The pavilion has a prime location. The Serpentine Gallery is a five-minute walk from the site where the Olympic triathlon will take place in Kensington Gardens.

“We really are in a fantastic place to engage with the Olympics,” said Peyton-Jones.

Ai's attendance at the official commissioning of the pavilion in June remains in question.

“We really don’t know yet what his plans will be and whether he’ll be allowed to leave China,” said Peyton-Jones. “It would be absolutely marvelous to have him here, and we hope that will be the case.”

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