Ai Weiwei’s “Forever Bicycles” sculpture on display at UM campus
Sculpture highlights location of the new Desautels Concert Hall
A smaller version of Ai Weiwei’s “Forever Bicycles” sculpture that was on display at the Forks for three years is on loan to the University of Manitoba, thanks to the generosity of Michael Nesbitt.
The 12-foot by 6-foot metal sculpture is made up of 18 bicycles and sits at the entrance of the Desautels Concert Hall, which is scheduled to open in September 2024.
The iconic artwork complements the concert hall, which is itself an award-winning design by Cibinel Architecture and Teeple Architects.
“The impact of this piece on campus is extraordinary,” says Edward Jurkowski, dean of the Desautels Faculty of Music and director of the School of Art. “To have on public display a life affirming work by an internationally recognized artist is a major coup for the University of Manitoba.”
Nesbitt says he is inspired by Ai Weiwei and his concern for human rights in China. He describes the sculpture as a contemplation on the restrictions of freedom of speech and other freedoms in communist China and how bicycles gave citizens the freedom to move around.
The title of the work, “Forever Bicycles” refers to the Forever Brand of bicycles that became popular in China during the artist’s childhood but were financially out of reach for many.
“I’m excited to have the sculpture placed at the entrance of the concert hall,” says Nesbitt. “You could probably make an interesting connection between music and freedom, bicycling and freedom, and art and freedom.”
“Michael Nesbitt always looks to how we could aspire to be the best version of ourselves and dare to dream on an international level,” says Jurkowski. “The Ai Weiwei positioned in front of the concert hall is a great illustration of Michael’s aspirational thinking.”
In 2019, Nesbitt brought Ai Weiwei’s 1,254-bicycle sculpture to the Forks. The 18-bicycle sculpture, which will be on display at UM for five years, is a continuation of Nesbitt’s interest in making world class art available to the public.
“It’s an enjoyable work and… I think it will stimulate conversation,” says Nesbitt, who notes an informational plaque will tell the story of the piece. “Art is important because artists are philosophers and people that we can learn from. It’s more of an educational result, and enjoyment of course, visually.”
Jurkowski says the installation right in front of the concert hall is inspiring. “Now that the patio stones have been laid in the courtyard, and the Ai Weiwei has been placed, the reality of the concert hall – which is scheduled to open at Homecoming 2024 – is garnering even more excitement.”
Nesbitt is also loaning two additional artworks – by Sol LeWitt and Lawrence Weiner, American conceptual artists – that will be placed in the foyer of the concert hall once it opens.
He explains his generosity as one of the responsibilities of being a citizen. “The definition of a citizen in historic times is a person who is fundamentally concerned with the people of a city. I look at what I’ve been doing and think of it in that context. I’m trying to be constructive as part of being a citizen.”
In addition to a $2.5 million gift towards the Desautels Concert Hall itself, Nesbitt also supports the Visiting Curator Program, a catalyst for international-calibre exhibitions at the School of Art Gallery aimed at fostering new curatorial voices. The third exhibition of the series is on now until Feb. 10, and features Shalaka Jadhav’s exhibition “To Broadcast is to Scatter”.
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