I recently visited the Tate Modern just before the Sunflower Seeds exhibition by Ai Weiwei closed. I didn’t expect to be exposed to lead paint and silica dust.
Half of the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern on the South Bank in London was covered in small sunflower seed husks. They weren’t exactly real sunflower seeds, but instead carefully crafted and handmade porcelain versions.
When the exhibit was first opened, people could freely walk on the exhibit. this was quite quickly stopped and a small barrier erected around the perimeter.
Whilst I was visiting the Sunflower Seeds exhibition, a number of people invaded the exhibit, and so I asked one of the Tate staff why it was closed in the first place.
They said that it was because a fine silica dust was formed within the Turbine Hall and is actually toxic to breathe in. This, combined with the fact that the Sunflower Seeds were painted with lead paint, combined to make them quite toxic.
Due to the fact that the dust cloud was generated, lead paint was used AND people were picking up the sunflower seeds and taking them away (which is actually stealing a work of art) the perimeter was introduced.
The Unilever series is sponsored by Unilever (durrr!). Perhaps one of the biggest companies in the world. Some of their visions include working to create a better future every day and helping people feel good, look good and get more out of life. I’m not really sure how kicking up a toxic silica dust and using lead paint tie in with this vision?
Does the responsibility of the danger lie solely with the artist? Should sponsors of art work investigate the materials they use in more depth? And should participants in the exhibition be informed if they are entering an exhibit which could cause irritation?