Memento Mori

Artist and activist Ai Weiwei unveiled his first glass sculpture exhibition at Venice’s Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore.

Chinese-born, Portugal-based multidisciplinary artist Ai Weiwei has long highlighted the plight of humanity – particularly refugees – in his artworks. His most recent exhibit, titled ‘La Commedia Umana: Memento Mori’, employs Murano glass to explore themes of death and fragility. 

The exhibition, which directly translates to ‘The Human Comedy: Remember that you must die”, will run until 27 November 2022 at San Giorgio Maggiore, opposite Venice's St Mark’s Square. The centerpiece of the exhibition is ‘La Commedia Umana’, a giant suspended sculpture composed of over 2 000 pieces of black Murano glass handmade by the masters of Berengo Studio. 

The sculpture, which, at a height of 8.4 meters, a width of 6.4 meters and a weight of 2 700kg, is the largest suspended Murano glass sculpture ever made, is a compilation of glass skulls, skeletons, organs, bones, mythological figures, animals and modern man-made objects, like surveillance cameras. Together, the reimagining of a classic Venetian chandelier represents the central themes of Ai Weiwei's work: nature, spirituality, and ‘a continual fascination with the contemporary world’.

“Glass, a special material and part of our daily life, bears witness to joy, anxiety and worry in our reality. In its presence we reflect on the relationship between life and death, and between tradition and reality,” explains Ai Weiwei.

Weiwei has been working in Murano glass since 2017, and the monumental centerpiece is the result of a three-year collaboration between Weiwei and the Berengo Studio. Each fragment of the sculpture was hand-made in Berengo Studio, where the glass masters used a combination of traditional and avant-garde techniques in the furnace and the casting studio.

After a short debut in Rome in early 2022, ‘La Commedia Umana: Memento Mori’ returned to Venice to join various other artworks by the Chinese artist, including eight previously unseen glass sculptures. The vast exhibition, curated by the artist himself, Adriano Berengo and Carmelo A. Grasso, includes Brainless Figure in Glass, a self-portrait; Glass Root, which refers to the woodworking of the artist; the selfie Illumination and his series of photographs recreated in Lego bricks. 

Find out more about the exhibition on the Berengo Studio website:


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Credits: Ai Weiwei