Ai Weiwei Exhibition Opening in Austin:
Remarks by Melba Whatley
The Contemporary Austin and Waller Creek Conservancy celebrated the opening of Ai Weiwei in Austin on June 2, 2017, at a reception held at the site of the artist’s installation Forever Bicycles, along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail at Waller Creek.
This two-site exhibition of works by the internationally renowned Chinese artist and activist is part of The Contemporary Austin’s Museum Without Walls program, which brings works of art out into the community in unexpected ways and places. The exhibition also represents the museum’s second public art collaboration with Waller Creek Conservancy, a partnership made possible by a generous grant from the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation. A second work by Ai Weiwei, Iron Tree Trunk, is installed at The Contemporary’s Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria.
Read on for opening remarks by Melba Whatley, President of the Waller Creek Conservancy Board of Directors and Trustee of The Contemporary Austin, and more images from the event.
IMAGE: Louis Grachos (Ernest and Sarah Butler Executive Director and CEO, The Contemporary Austin), Jeanne Klein (President, The Contemporary Austin Board of Trustees and Chair of the Art Committee, Waller Creek Conservancy Board of Directors), Melba Whatley (President, Waller Creek Conservancy Board of Directors and Trustee, The Contemporary Austin), and Peter Mullan (CEO, Waller Creek Conservancy). © David Brendan Hall, www.davidhallphotog.com.
Opening Remarks by Melba Whatley
"Good evening. I’m Melba Whatley, Chair of the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation and devoted supporter of The Contemporary Austin and the Waller Creek Conservancy.
Believe me, the $1 million the Marcus Foundation contributed to this installation was the easiest contribution of all. There are very few people in the world who could make a phone call, fly to Berlin, and secure two Ai Weiwei sculptures. Louis Grachos, Executive Director and CEO of The Contemporary, is one of these people. So, many thanks to Louis.
I’d also like to give special thanks to Jeannie Freilich of the Lisson Gallery of New York and London. Without her ardent support, none of this would be possible. I must also acknowledge Peter Mullan, CEO of the Waller Creek Conservancy, and his staff for the brilliant site along Waller Creek they have given us for Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles, and all of their wonderful support.
Finally, and most important of all, I want to acknowledge the installation crew. They came from London and The Contemporary and worked grueling twelve-hour days in the hot sun installing Forever Bicycles. It’s a lot harder than it looks and we owe them a big thank you!
You should know this is not the end but the beginning of the celebration around these works of art. In the fall, for example, The Contemporary will host a contemporary Chinese film festival curated by Ai Weiwei.
In the eighteenth-century, English farmers lost the ability to graze the livestock on the common land, the land they shared with their neighbors. Because of that, some of you are standing here tonight. Your ancestors, unable to sustain their way of life, emigrated to America.
This is a powerful reminder of the forces that always threaten to engulf our common land, threats of growth and greed, threats of nature and neglect. Today we know common land as a square, a park, a trail, a zocolo, or a green. But whatever we call it, we cherish it.
So it is fitting that tonight we have much to celebrate. Because of Austin Mayor Steve Adler, the Austin City Council, and the City of Austin, and because of all of you and Betty Marcus—the Marcus Foundation benefactor—we are undertaking the sublime transformation of not one but two beloved public spaces: Laguna Gloria and Waller Creek. In doing so, we not only save these spaces forever. We make a place for great art.
So in case along the way, we sometimes forget why we are doing this, look behind you. No one has spoken out more clearly in the twenty-first century against the forces that threaten our civilized life—suppression, incarceration, and censorship—than Ai Weiwei. With lots of bicycles, here at Waller Creek, and a dying tree, Iron Tree Trunk, installed at Laguna Gloria.
It is tantalizing to imagine Ai Weiwei and Betty Marcus having a drink together. He, one of the monumental artists of the twenty-first century and she, a horse-riding, chocolate-eating twentieth-century Jewish girl from New York City. Despite their differences in size, gender, ethnicity, and generations, I would imagine they would have much in common. But I am absolutely certain they would agree we should work like hell to get these projects completed, work like hell to secure these works for Austin forever, and work like hell to protect our common land."
—Melba Whatley, President of the Waller Creek Conservancy Board of Directors and Trustee of The Contemporary Austin.