Contemporary Austin Acquires Ai Weiwei Sculpture

More than 70 individuals and foundations in Austin and nationally contribute to make 'Iron Tree Trunk" part of the museum's permanent collection

Ai Weiwei,
Ai Weiwei, Iron Tree Trunk, 2015. Cast iron. 185 x 63 x 82 5/8 inches. Edition 1 of 3. Installation view, The Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria, Austin, Texas, 2017. Artwork © Ai Weiwei Studio. Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio and Lisson Gallery. Image courtesy The Contemporary Austin. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.

Thanks to a roster of more than 70 donors, the Contemporary Austin has acquired “Iron Tree Trunk,” a cast iron sculpture by Ai Weiwei that has been on exhibit at the museum’s Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria since June 2017.

The 15-foot-high sculpture is replica of a dead trunk, cast from the found remains of a massive tree in Northeast China.

Donations came from individuals and foundations in Austin and nationally, with a challenge grant from the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation and contributions from Stratus Properties, New York’s FLAG Art Foundation and the City of Austin Urban Forest Grant. A complete list of donors is posted on the museum’s website.

Now, “Iron Tree Trunk” is part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Louis Grachos, executive director and CEO of the Contemporary Austin, said he was both touched and impressed by the outpouring of support.

“Austinites clearly understand just how significant a work like this is for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of the tens of thousands of adults and children who visit Laguna Gloria from the region, for the cultural tourists who come to Austin
from around the world, and for future generations who will develop lifelong relationships and lasting memories with this moving and poetic sculpture.”

Melba Whatley, chairperson of the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation said, “What could be more wonderful than participating in the acquisition of Ai Weiwei’s singular work ‘Iron Tree Trunk.’ We believe great art elevates us all. Through Ai Weiwei’s monumental sculpture we brush up against China, immigration, civil rights, nature and the awe-inspiring dimensions of genius. All Austinites can be proud that this community has matched the Marcus Foundation’s financial support for this most important addition to the city’s cultural landscape.”

The Contemporary also announced that the loan of Ai’s “Forever Bicycles” — on view since 2017 at the Waller Creek delta in downtown Austin — has been extended through June 2019.

“Iron Tree Trunk” is one Ai’s series of large-scale cast tree parts, inspired by Chinese cultural tradition. On a visit to the town of Jingdezhen in the northeastern Jiangxi province, Ai witnessed the local tradition of collecting and selling dry tree branches and trunks simply for their aesthetic qualities and for decorative display in homes.

With its oxidizing iron in shades of burnt orange, “Iron Tree Trunk” is evocative of both the forces of the natural world and of industrialization.

The museum did not disclose the amount paid for “Iron Tree Trunk.” Ai’s sculptures can sell for hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.



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Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is an arts and culture journalist who has covered visual art, performance, film, literature, architecture, and just about any combination thereof. She was the staff arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman for 17 years. Her commendations include the First Place Arts & Culture Criticism Award from the Society for Features Journalism. Additionally, Jeanne Claire has been awarded professional fellowships at USC’s Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and NEA/Columbia University Arts Journalism Institute. In 2022, she was awarded the Rabkin Prize in visual art journalism. Jeanne Claire founded and led Sightlines, a non-profit online arts and culture magazine that reached an annual readership of 600,000. And for two years, she taught arts journalism at the University of Texas College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Architecture magazine, Dwell, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Art Papers, and ICON design magazine, among other publications.