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Taking Names: Ai sunflower seeds bought by British gallery

- - Monday, March 5, 2012

Britain's Tate gallery has bought a work by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei made up of 8 million porcelain sunflower seeds - a portion of the 100 million he brought to London in 2010.

Tate said Monday that it had purchased "Sunflower Seeds 2010" - 13 cubic yards of seeds, handcrafted by Chinese artisans, which can be displayed either as a conical pile or as a square or rectangular bed, the Associated Press reports.

The gallery did not disclose the price. Last year, Sotheby's auction house sold a 220-pound bag of the seeds for $550,000.

In 2010, Mr. Ai covered the floor of a 10,000-square-foot hall at London's Tate Modern with almost 100 million of the seeds. Visitors initially were invited to walk or lie on them, but after a few days the ceramic dust was judged a health hazard and the exhibit was cordoned off.

It still proved a hugely popular show. The gallery said the seeds, a common Chinese street snack, represented friendship and compassion, raised questions of individualism and evoked the enforced conformity of the Cultural Revolution, when propaganda posters depicted Chairman Mao as the sun and Chinese people as sunflowers turning toward him.

The bearded and burly Mr. Ai, 54, has exhibited widely in Europe and the United States and last year was named the world's most powerful artist by Britain's Art Review magazine.

His social activism has brought him into conflict with the Beijing authorities. In 2011, he was detained for almost three months during a wider crackdown on dissent, and has since been investigated for tax evasion.

Pippa Middleton finishes 56-mile ski marathon

Pippa Middleton has completed a 56-mile cross-country ski marathon in Sweden - taking a respectable 412th place in the women's category, the Associated Press reports.

The sister of the Duchess of Cambridge - the former Kate Middleton - finished the Vasaloppet ski race in 7 hours, 13 minutes, 36 seconds, alongside 15,800 competitors in bright sunshine.

Miss Middleton told Swedish broadcaster SVT she had only prepared for the race for "a couple of weekends" and admitted it was tiring.

Miss Middleton and her brother, James, who clocked in at 6 hours, 47 minutes, 27 seconds, raced to raise money for children's charity Magic Breakfast.

The competition is one of the world's oldest cross-country races and is based on Gustav Vasa's attempt to gather peasants for a revolt against occupying Danes in 1522.

The winner finished in 3 hours, 38 minutes, 41 seconds.

'Star Wars' designer dies at age 82

Ralph McQuarrie, the cinematic designer known for famous "Star Wars" characters such as Darth Vader, Chewbacca and R2-D2, has died at age 82, his website announced Sunday.

According to the Associated Press, Mr. McQuarrie, who died Saturday, collaborated with George Lucas on the original "Star Wars" trilogy in the 1970s and with Steven Spielberg on films including "E.T.," and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

He also was part of the team that with director Ron Howard made "Cocoon," a 1985 production that won an Oscar for special effects.

"Ralph was a very special person for many more reasons than his undeniable brilliance with a brush," said a statement posted on the website.

"His influence on design will be felt forever. There's no doubt in our hearts that centuries from now amazing spaceships will soar, future cities will rise and someone, somewhere will say ... 'that looks like something Ralph McQuarrie painted.' "

Star-studded cast presents Proposition 8 play premiere

Martin Sheen commanded the stage with his impassioned portrayal of an attorney arguing for gay-marriage rights; Jane Lynch inspired instant response as a vehement same-sex-marriage opponent; Brad Pitt dazzled as a judge.

It was all part of the star-studded West Coast premiere of "8," a play about the 2010 federal court fight against Proposition 8, the gay-marriage ban that California voters approved in 2008.

The performance Saturday at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles also featured George Clooney, Kevin Bacon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christine Lahti, George Takei, John C. Reilly, Chris Colfer, Matthew Morrison and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

The play by Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black made its Broadway debut last year in similar starry fashion. Saturday's benefit performance was broadcast live on YouTube, where director Rob Reiner said it drew 200,000 viewers. He hopes it attracts more than a million before its weeklong online run ends. The play also will be staged around the country with local actors at colleges and community theaters.

"We want as many people as possible to see what happened inside that courtroom," said Mr. Reiner, a founding member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is funding the federal fight for marriage equality.

Relying largely on transcripts from court proceedings, "8" introduces viewers to the couples who challenged the California initiative, the attorneys who argued their case and a bumbling witness who spoke out against them.

Compiled from Web and wire service reports.