05/03/2012 11:51 GMT | Updated 05/03/2012 14:11 GMT

Tate Modern Buys Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds (PICTURES + VIDEO)

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds are getting a permanent home at the Tate.

The gallery has snapped up around eight million of the 100 million porcelain seed husks which carpeted its vast floor in 2010 before they were cordoned off over fears about ceramic dust.

The 10 tonnes of seeds can be displayed in the form of a one-and-a-half metre high conical sculpture, stretching five metres in diameter, or as a 10 centimetre-deep square or rectangle.

The work, Sunflower Seeds 2010, was bought from the artist, who has been named the most powerful person in the art world, for an undisclosed figure, with help from Tate International Council and the Art Fund.

Tate covered 1,000 square metres of its London gallery's Turbine Hall with 100 million sunflower seeds during its 2010 commission for its Unilever Series.


But health and safety concerns scuppered the gallery's plans for visitors to be able to walk on the seeds, which were individually handcrafted by skilled artisans.

Reaction to Sunflower Seeds 2010 was unanimously positive. The Telegraph described the installation as a "immeasurable, fathomless grey sea" and a "masterpiece" of modern art.

The Guardian's reviewer said "I am glad I experienced the poetry of Sunflower Seeds first, with all its subtle nuances" and said the work evokes "thoughts of dismally repetitive labour". The Indepedent observed that "the Turbine Hall is perhaps the hardest commission to fulfil in this country" and praised Weiwei's "melancholic" work.

As well as being a popular Chinese street snack, sunflower seeds have a political meaning for the Chinese artist.

During the Cultural Revolution, propaganda images showed Chairman Mao as the sun and the mass of people as sunflowers turning towards him.

The ranking of the activist, who has been an outspoken critic of China's human rights record, at the top of the art world's power list last year came after he spent more than two months in detention.

His arrest in April 2011, as he boarded a Beijing flight bound for Hong Kong, prompted a global campaign for his release.

How Sunflower Seeds 2010 was made:

...And how it looked when it got to London: