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Ai Weiwei’s Gilded Cage blocked from Blenheim Palace by Historic England

photo: Timothy Schenck

An attempt by the Duke of Marlborough and his brother to install an artwork called Gilded Cage by Ai Weiwei a 25ft golden cage in the gardens of their family seat at Blenheim Palace is being opposed by Historic England.

James Spencer-Churchill, 12th Duke of Marlborough, and his stepbrother Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill have sought permission to exhibit Ai Weiwei’s Gilded Cage which was shown in New York in 2017 as part of a campaign against Donald Trump’s border wall plan with Mexico and at Venice in 2018, on the estate in Oxfordshire.

The duke, 64, has previously hosted an exhibition of Ai Weiwei’s works organised by his younger brother, who runs the Blenheim Art Foundation.

Historic England, who have to be consulted as part of the approval process, wrote that the cage ‘would appear at odds with the visual character’ of the site. Blenheim Art Foundation argued that the golden cage, which is a commentary on the treatment of refugees, was a good match for the palace. .They said: ‘Its scale and gold hue will look aesthetically impactful against the yellow limestone and gilding of the palace. The structure itself brings to mind a colossal bird cage, elegant and whimsical, yet loaded with significance as a symbol of freedom ensnared.’

They continued: ‘On the theme of refugees, Blenheim Palace was a safe place for more than 400 boys evacuated from Malvern College during the Second World War. It provided a refuge for the displaced.’
Whereas conservationist Richard Peats at Historic England said: ‘It would be a highly visible structure that would appear completely at odds with the visual character of this part of the park.’
West Oxfordshire District Council will ultimately decide whether the planning application, submitted in March, is successful.

Blenheim Art Foundation was launched on the 1st October 2014 with the opening of the inaugural exhibition Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace. This marked the beginning of an entirely new initiative at Blenheim Palace, offering visitors the unique opportunity to experience the work of international contemporary artists through a series of exhibitions held within the historic setting of the Palace and its celebrated grounds. The Foundation is a non-profit organisation that aims to challenge convention, breaking away from the “white cube” aesthetic that has become synonymous with the presentation of contemporary art. Blenheim Art Foundation seeks to show artists most relevant to our time and looks to those who question conventional thinking in contemporary art. The fundamental ambition of the Blenheim Art Foundation is to challenge, engage, and excite the visitors at Blenheim, where the programme is continually evolving.

The Foundation was established by Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill; brother of the 12th Duke of Marlborough. A dedicated collector of contemporary art, Lord Edward has long-held the ambition to launch a contemporary art programme at Blenheim.



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