Visitors to the Tate Modern are being welcomed to find museum staff guarding the roped off exhibit by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The installation of 100 million porcelain hand-painted (of course not by the artist himself) sunflower seeds were creating too much ceramic dust when walked upon by visitors.
Visitors can now view the work from the bridge that intersects the Turbine Hall where they can look out over the 100 million seeds. From this viewpoint, it is not obviously what exactly the pieces actually are that make us this immense grey carpet. To discover they are in fact sunflower seeds, you need to go down a level where you can stand about a meter away from the exhibit.
But does this health and safety enforcement really hinder the work of art? As an interactive form of art it basically fails. If you cannot get up close and appreciate the detail of an individual seed then the concept of vast numbers of individuals making up an entire mass is in my opinion impeded. You are forced to only think of the crowd and not the individual. No longer can you walk on the seeds and think about the fragility of the piece, which asks you to consider the individual’s impact on the world.
The fact the museum staff are encouraging people not to take any seeds away also thwarts this concept. The artist however has said, “if I was in the audience I would definitely want to take a seed. “ This idea of ownership and theft of art is not a new one. Feliz Gonzalez-Torres did it in the 1980’s with his piles of sweets inviting viewers to help themselves in the knowledge that if they do, they reduce the work for the following viewers. To be honest this concept of morality is rather boring now.
Visitors to the Tate Modern are encouraged to take a step back and view the work. This fits in with the new trend in art to be more subtle and reflective, instead of the last decade of visual one liner, which has been rammed down our throat by using the loudest forms of shock tactics.
At the end of the day the museum have not made any effort to foresee the problems that have now arisen with the work and so the success of the piece has been reduced. However, even if the health and safety measures had not been brought into force, I doubt the work would have had a significant impact with his recycled ideas.