Q&A with Michael Frahm - Museums Association

Q&A with Michael Frahm

Working with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace
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Simon Stephens
Art collector and adviser Michael Frahm, the director of the Blenheim Art Foundation, has developed an exhibition programme for Blenheim Palace that begins with an Ai Weiwei show.

This inaugural exhibition, which features more than 50 works by the Chinese artist and social activist, opens tomorrow (1 October) at the historic house in Oxfordshire and runs until 14 December.

Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace is the first major contemporary art exhibition to be presented in the early 18th-centrury building, which is home to the 11th Duke of Marlborough and his family, and is the birthplace of former British prime minister Winston Churchill.

Why was Ai Weiwei chosen as the artist for the launch exhibition of the Blenheim Art Foundation?

We strongly believe that Weiwei is one of the most important and influential artists working today. We wanted to present an extensive view of the artist’s practice and give people in the UK and visitors from around the world the opportunity to see a fantastic career spanning over 30 years.

How did you work with Ai Weiwei to develop the exhibition?

Given Weiwei’s current situation of not being able to travel I spent a lot of time discussing the project with him in China. We worked very closely with him to provide a visual representation of Blenheim Palace.

This was done through extensive documentation including laser scans and elevation plans of the entire palace.  Ultimately, it was a question of maintaining a constant dialogue with Weiwei and his team throughout the whole process.

What are the main challenges of staging contemporary art shows in historic properties such as Blenheim Palace?

Blenheim is not a white-cube setting so we have to of course be very mindful of the history and preservation of the palace. It is about finding the right balance between the contemporary artists working today and the great masters whose works already fill the rooms with a significant presence.

How do you see the contemporary art programme at Blenheim Palace developing?

We aim to show the artists that we feel are the most relevant to our time and are looking towards those who question conventional thinking in contemporary art. We hope we will challenge, excite and inspire the visitors at Blenheim as we continue to develop the programme.

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