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VM choice: Ai Wei Wei installation at Le Bon Marche

Chinese contemporary artist Ai Wei Wei has filled Paris department store Le Bon Marche with giant art installations entitled, ‘Er Xi, Air de Jeux.’ Child’s play and air games they certainly are, employing methods used for traditional Chinese New Year displays and floats with a framework made from split bamboo.

Ai’s versions are covered in white silk. White is the colour of death in China and, of course, the theme of the white goods sale display so beautifully described in Emile Zola’s book The Ladies’ Paradise, which is based on Le Bon Marche.

Ai has employed characters taken Chinese myths which describe medicines, rulers, monstrous animals including a nine-tailed fox, and the mundane. The images fill the atrium, the ground floor display area, and the windows.

Here, sandwiched between the jewellery and accessories departments, and the premium brand concession spaces on the ground floor, a giant, fantastical white dragon undulates across a shallow white platform emblazoned with Ai’s name at one end.

While the windows are filled with 2D and 3D versions, the animals in the atrium are developed from traditional 2D woodcuts, becoming 3D with the help of Ai Wei Wei’s imagination. The artist has says we all have a parallel world of dreams, fantasies and fears with which we learn to coexist, as they are part of our mythology and our very humanity. He claims children know how to do this naturally, and that the exhibition speaks to customers’ inner child.

Working with a team of craftsmen from China’s Shandong province, and using the same techniques employed to make a Chinese kite, Ai’s figures are also lit from within just as such figures would be in Chinese New Year displays and on parade floats. This fish-headed version has Ai’s face.

Neatly, they echo and enhance the opaque white grids of the metal balconies and handrails that edge the atrium.

This scaled echo is particularly apparent at the top of the atrium where the figures are seen against the glass ceiling.

Whilst commerce might frequently adopt the tropes of art, here a store has become the shell for an art installation. And ever the self-publicist, a collage of Ai images supports the work, the first he has created for a retail space. The installation is extended until the 15th of March.

Photos: Paula Beard