Opening today, April 18, is the Brooklyn Museum's exhibition Ai Weiwei: According to What?—"the first North American survey of the work of the provocative Chinese conceptual artist, sculptor, photographer, filmmaker, and activist." The exhibition has traveled across the United States and the Brooklyn Museum is the final site to host these works. According to What? will remain on view through August 10.
"I’ve always believed it is essential for contemporary artists to question established assumptions and challenge beliefs. This has never changed."
Ai Weiwei, who created the first group of avant-garde artists in China, is an individual well-known throughout the world for his creativity and his challenging of both art and politics. His artistic influences include pioneering painters and sculptors Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns. Ai's fame and his artistic commentary on modern Chinese government has led to his widely-covered 81-day imprisonment in Chinese prison in 2011, and the subsequent revocation of his passport, which means that the artist has been unable to see the touring exhibition for himself.
The works on view in the exhibition include both well-known photographs and sculptures and newer creations. One particular item, from 1995, is a series of three black-and-white photographs entitled "Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn," which is one of his most famous works. The series is a direct commentary on the modernization of China and the country's indifference to its ancient and golden past. Accompanied by these photographs are an actual group of sixteen Han dynasty pots, transformed by the artist with bright-colored dripping paint. The Brooklyn Museum notes, "Chinese antiques are highly valued by the Chinese government, but Ai believes that the government considers contemporary art to be 'a product of degenerate Western ideology'" and therefore by transforming an antique into a modern-day creation, Ai is questioning the power and value of antiquity. Seemingly, every one of Ai's works are an attempt to challenge the modern world or art and governance, an attempt to have viewers see themselves and their world in a new light.
S.A.C.R.E.D. is the most recent work on view, shown for the first time in North America after its debut at the Venice Biennale last year. The work is a commentary on his imprisonment in 2011 and features on a monumental scale six iron boxes that within each "contains lifelike fiberglass dioramas of detailed scenes painstakingly reproduced from memory. The work documents and reveals the most painful and intimate moments of Ai’s imprisonment, from periods of interrogation to such daily activities as eating, sleeping, showering, and using the toilet."
As an activist, Ai has created many of his works in response to the heartache he has seen others go through, and actively sculpts and paints in order to get those stories heard. Stay Home!, for example, is a documentary that is exhibited for the first time about "Liu Ximei, who contracted AIDS as a child after being given an HIV-contaminated blood transfusion at a Chinese hospital." Another piece, Straight, is another monumental work (weighing in at seventy tons) that features the beams of schoolhouses destroyed in an earthquake in Sichuan in 2008. Tens of thousands of souls were lost as a result of the earthquake, in part because of poor architecture, but this was not advertised by the Chinese media, and Ai was unhappy with the response the government took. Ai personally visited those whose lives were affected by the disaster and documented his research and the stories of the people he spoke with through his art, on film, and blog, which was subsequently shut down by the Chinese government. Straight is composed of beams that were once mangled from the quake, but were straightened out by Ai after a few years of work - a commentary that although a tragic disaster occurred, reconstruction and rebirth is possible.
According to What? is an exhibition of a revolutionary artist. The show is organized by the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo and in Brooklyn by managing curator Sharon Matt Atkins, and has traveled to Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, Toronto, and Miami. If you're looking to be inspired, the Brooklyn Museum is the place to be.
"The work of Ai Weiwei examines the interrelations between art, society, and individual experience while exploring universal topics such as culture, history, politics, and tradition. His practice is interdisciplinary and transcends artistic genres, providing insights into the cultural, historical, and social contexts from which it emerged. Many of Ai’s creations address issues of cultural identity, tradition, and craftsmanship, while others engage with more overtly political and social issues."
Entrance to the Brooklyn museum is suggested, but there is a special exhibition fee of $15 to see Ai Weiwei: According to What?, which also includes entrance to the rest of the museum. Tickets can be purchased in person or online. A number of special events accompany the exhibition, including curator tours, and a fully illustrated catalog is for sale in the gift shop.
To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, examiner is giving away two free tickets to the exhibition! Leave us a comment in the space below, or on facebook or twitter, and let us know your thoughts on the activist artist, the artwork you would be most excited to see and why. A winner will be chosen in one week, on April 25, at 6pm EST. Good luck!