Ai Weiwei's Turbine Hall installation closed 'over health and safety concerns'

Visitor unable to see the Chinese artist's 100m porcelain sunflower seeds was told they were creating too much ceramic dust

There was a something of an installation art mystery tonight after the sudden closure of the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, where visitors have been enjoyably trudging through and relaxing on the artist Ai Weiwei's vast grey field of 100m sunflower seeds.

The installation was closed all day and one visitor, who preferred not to be named, said she had been told it was for health and safety reasons because of the ceramic dust the tiny porcelain seeds were creating.

A Tate spokeswoman initially said it had been closed for maintenance rather than health and safety reasons. So many people had walked through it that it simply needed "putting back into shape," she said.

But at 5.30pm the picture became less clear when she said the installation would not be reopening this evening and a statement would be issued some time later.

The Chinese artist's work, consisting of 100m hand painted replica sunflower seeds, has proved incredibly popular since it opened on Monday.

The visitor who talked to the Guardian turned up mid-afternoon and waited 45 minutes before giving up on an attempt to see it. "It was very frustrating – there was no sign up about it, nobody to ask what was going on. There were two men raking it incredibly slowly. When I found someone to ask they said it was because of the dust it was creating and there was a meeting going on about it upstairs."

Until today the biggest issue surrounding the work had been whether it was OK to take one of seeds, all hand-crafted in Jingdezhen, China's porcelain capital. The official Tate line is that it is certainly not, but given that there are 100m of them the instruction is not exactly being heeded.

If it turns out to be a health and safety issue, it will be the latest of a number of such headaches with interactive art in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. There was nervousness in 2006 when people slid down Carsten Höller's 24m slides, and a year later concern over Doris Salcedo's 167m crack in the floor led to signs being put up urging visitors to be careful.


Mark Brown

The GuardianTramp

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