This week wonder | wander | women paid The Royal Academy of Arts a visit and were greeted by a massive Ai Weiwei installation in the courtyard - an installation funded not by the British government or the artist himself but by Kickstarter.
The artist had installed tree sculptures made of large pieces of dead wood bolted together. They formed a grove around a massive armchair which, on closer inspection, turned out to be made of black marble.
The placard above explains the installation: 'These artificial constructions have been interpreted as a commentary on the way in which geographically and culturally diverse peoples have been brought together to form "One China" in a state-sponsored policy aimed at protecting and promoting China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.'
The trees completely filled the courtyard, looming like a dark fairytale setting and changing the light that usually reflects off of pale stone surfaces on three sides.
The 'Marble Couch' was another comfortable thing turned unfamiliar: the placard states that the sculpture 'references the Ming Dynasty vogue for fashioning everyday objects from luxurious materials, resulting in items that served no practical use but which emphasised the wealth of the rulers of Imperial China.'
The 'trees' seemed to threaten the statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the massively influential 18th-century painter who founded the Royal Academy. He held them back bravely with his brushes and palette.
We were there to see a comprehensive exhibit of works by Joseph Cornell, one of wonder | wander | women's favourite artists. Look forward to a detailed post on the exhibit later this month on wonder | wander | world!
Although the Academy is dedicated to the arts, it is also home to eminent scientists: the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry are based here.
We were most intrigued by the Society of Antiquaries: we spotted what might be a gold-painted porcelain Buddha in the window, but couldn't get close enough to tell! The impressive facade made a good substitute.
Just before we went inside to see the exhibit, the sun came out - a radical difference in atmosphere, especially among the stone buildings of London. Here is a photo with overcast sky:
Here is another photo taken two minutes later in sunshine:
The grove became less threatening, although it was still imposing. Many of us - Londoners and visitors - turned automatically toward the sun as it broke through the chill we had been experiencing for the past few days.
There were no natural trees in the courtyard, but Nature had reminded us of its presence anyway. We entered the dim buildings, a little energised by the brief flash of warmth and colour, and ready for the man-made wonders that waited for us inside.