I took a trip down to Washington, DC on February 23rd to catch Ai Weiwei's According to What? at the Hirshhorn Museum before it closed on February 24th. The first North American retrospective of Ai's work, the exhibit showcased sculpture, photography, and video, alongside nearly 100 black-and-white photographs taken between 1983-1993 documenting the time the artist lived in New York City.
The 55-year-old artist, political activist, dissident, and rock star (?), was imprisoned for 81 days in 2011 for tax evasion (though it is widely believed that the charges are false and he was likely arrested for his criticisms against the Chinese government) and his passport was revoked, prohibiting him from leaving China. He famously helped design the 2008 Beijing Olympic Stadium only to reject the project because he thought the goverment was using it, as well as the Olympic games, as propaganda. To comment on China's destruction of its history and culture (i.e. bulldozing historic sites to put up highrises), Ai often takes ancient artworks and destroys or devalues them (i.e. Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn or Coca-Cola Vase). He also vehemently continues to criticize the Chinese government in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in which thousands of schoolchildren died in their poorly constructed schoolhouses. Some of the exhibit's most moving works are based on this tragedy.
If you missed According to What? at the Hirshhorn, the exhibit will travel to Indianapolis, Toronto, and Miami, before making a stop at The Brooklyn Museum in April 2014. Don't miss it! See my photos from the Hirshhorn below and read more about the exhibition at hirshhorn.si.edu, salon.com, and washingtoncitypaper.com. Also, check out my April 2011 post on Ai Weiwei here.
Snake Ceiling, 2009, created in response to the 2008 Sichuan province earthquake that killed thousands of schoolchildren, crushing them in poorly constructed schools that did not meet building codes. The piece was made using hundreds of backpacks, similar to the ones used by the children, and curves around a corner and stretches down a long corridor. To the left of Snake Ceiling, an entire wall was devoted to Names of the Student Earthquake Victims Found by the Citizen's Investigation, 2008-2011, which listed the names of 5,000 young victims, while Remembrance, 2010, an audio recording reciting the students' names played.
Prints of Beijing's 2008 Olympic Stadium, 2005-2008, Divina Proportione, 2006, F Size, 2011, perhaps Ai's most famous work, the Bird's Nest Stadium, he designed it with the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Before the Olympics kicked off, the artist disassociated himself with the project, saying it was being used as propoganda by the Chinese government.
He Xie, 2010, composed of 3,200 porcelain crabs. In Chinese "river crab" is a homonym of "harmonious," and is internet slang for censorship. The work was made as a protest to the 2010 government-ordered destruction of Ai's Shanghai studio. An actual dinner of 10,000 river crabs was also held, but Ai was under house arrest and not able to attend.
Moon Chest, 2008, Ai cut 4 circles into each of these 7 chests made of huali wood, a precious wood, changing them from functional objects to solely objects of art. This series includes 81 chests in total, with each chest being unique with the placement of its holes. The upper and lower holes align when the chests are lined up, showing the phases of the moon.