Han Dynasty vase with Coca-Cola logo Not-so-precious porcelain
combine his two passions, art and Blenheim, under one roof. It is easy to see what Blenheim gains from this — a constant stream of art lovers driving up from London and beyond to view the 50 installation pieces dotted around the house and garden. It rather resembles an adult treasure hunt, with visitors having to purchase a pamphlet in which pictures of the pieces and their room numbers are set out and then trying to locate them.
Though Ai has never visited Blenheim, being forbidden to leave China, he created his installations by studying drawings, architectural models and photographs. It is a marvellously subversive set of pieces, drawing the attention of the public to the lack of free speech in China while perhaps cocking a snoot at the British class system. On the bed in which Winston Churchill was born lies a pair of handcuffs — a reference to a spot of S&M or to the imprisonment he has experienced?
Blenheim has an impressive collection of Chinese porcelain to which Ai has responded in a typically irreverent fashion. In a corridor alongside the Great Hall sits a copy of a Han Dynasty vase onto which has been painted the Coca-Cola logo. In the Red Drawing Room with its family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds and John Singer Sargent, an enormous pile of 2 300 porcelain crabs lies in a heap on the rug. They refer to a meal served at a dinner party Ai arranged in his Shanghai studio in 2010, which he could not attend as he was under house arrest. As the Chinese word for
Marble chairs Referring to the furniture
taken into exile