Britain is slowly emerging from lockdown, with many major galleries reopening to the public – with new health and safety procedures in place. One major London attraction whose reopening date is fast approaching is the Imperial War Museum, whose doors are set to reopen on 1st August with a new exhibition by internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei, titled History of Bombs.

The new site-specific art commission will be on display as part of IWM’s Refugees season, which will invite visitors to explore refugee experiences throughout history and the ongoing issues faced by those affected through two major exhibitions and a series of events.

Exploring international migration, conflict as a root cause of human flow, and the relationship between the individual, society and the state, History of Bombs takes the form of a new, site-specific artwork by the internationally renowned Ai Weiwei that draws on the artist’s ongoing investigation into politics and power. Ai’s takeover of IWM London’s iconic Atrium will be the first time in its history that the space will be given over in its entirety to an artist.

Described as a “global citizen, artist and thinker”, Ai Weiwei regularly explores major issues like the worldwide plight of refugees and speaks out publicly on the issues he believes are important. Serving as an example for free expression in China and internationally, he is one of the leading figures of his generation.

This event was originally set to run between 2nd April and 29th November 2020, but the museum’s closure as a result of COVID-19 has resulted in the exhibition being postponed until next month.


Internationally-renowned artist Ai Weiwei’s exhibition ‘History of Bombs’ will open in the atrium of the Imperial War Museum on 1st August. Image © IWM.

IWM Head of Art Rebecca Newell spoke to The Net Gallery about the museum’s preparations ahead of reopening:

“IWM, along with the wider museums sector, has been working closely with DCMS (Department for Culture, Media & Sport) throughout this period to develop solutions to the challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak. From one-way routes and timed ticketing, to going cashless and creating additional sanitisation stations, we’ve been working hard to make sure our museums are safe for our visitors, staff and volunteers to return to.

“At IWM London, we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to make sure an extraordinary artwork is ready for our returning visitors – a brand new commission from Ai Weiwei called History of Bombs. Ai’s work covers the entire floor of our iconic Atrium and depicts 50 to-scale bombs, from the First World War to the present day. It forms part of our wider Refugees season, spanning IWM London and IWM North.

“Installing such a large-scale artwork of course had its challenges, and we faced some additional organisational challenges during lockdown. We had to move large museum objects out of the Atrium – including weapons, vehicles and technology – in order to place the artwork. Timeframes also had to be extended as a reduced team worked to complete the install on site while adhering to social distancing, but we’re so glad that visitors will soon be able to see the results of that work. This is the first time we’ve worked to install an artwork of this scale and significance in our central Atrium space, and it provides a really meaningful physical and visual experience for our visitors to come back to.”


The Imperial War Museum, London. Image © IWM.

Article by Toby Buckley.

Readers interested in visiting the Ai Weiwei exhibition from 1st August are advised to read the information on the Imperial War Museums website to find out more about new social distancing regulations that are being put in place. The museum is introducing a system of advance booking and social distancing, and have set up extra sanitisation and hand-washing points for visitor use.

All images courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.