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November 11, 2012

Ai Weiwei: Never Boring

Whew, I am tired. I don’t often utter those words but I am feeling it. It’s actually my brain as opposed to my body. Maybe it’s because the election was so emotionally draining or the end of daylight saving time threw my internal clock for a loop. At any rate, here’s my big confession: I consider this post lazy. It doesn’t involve cool patterns or visual connections. It’s not a detailed profile of some life-altering product. Nor is it a witty riff on a wardrobe challenge. While I still had to work at selecting, editing and ordering the images, it’s just a simple, straightforward post. These are the ones, though, that enable my mind to rest, reflect and refresh for the next round of creative inspiration.

Since it was a balmy 60 degrees in DC yesterday, I decided to drag Andrew to the Hirshhorn to see the exhibition “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” I’m sort of fascinated by the [in]famous, larger-than-life Chinese artist/activist. Having missed the acclaimed documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” earlier this year, I was determined to make it to his first American museum survey. Whether you believe he’s over-hyped style over substance or one of the world’s greatest living artists, the show was indisputably engaging. Most of all, I was blown away by his ideas and imagination.

Here are highlights from our visit:

Two Hirshhorn gallerinas in conversation.

Snake Ceiling, 2009, backpacks. Requiem for the tens of thousands of schoolchildren who died in the May 12, 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Immersive experience: photos show the construction of the Beijing National Stadium (a.k.a. the Bird’s Nest) on which he collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. Sculpture made of huali wood.

Moon Chest, 2008, a series of seven chests in huali wood.

Through the “view finder”: circular openings in each chest align so they create the effect of showing the phases of the moon.

Grapes, 2010, forty antique wooden stools from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

[background] Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995/2009, Lambda prints. [foreground] Colored Vases, 2007-2010, Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) vases and industrial paint.

Close-up of Colored Vases.

Bowls of Pearls, 2006, a pair of porcelain bowls and freshwater pearls. (You’d almost think these were enormous bowls of rice.)

He Xie, 2010-, 3,200 porcelain crabs. As Roberta Smith writes in the New York Times, Mr. Ai gave a dinner at his Shanghai studio as a “sardonic nod to its imminent destruction by the authorities. The dinner consisted of piles of river crabs, partly because they are a seasonal delicacy, and partly because the Chinese word for them, ‘he xie,’ also means ‘harmony’…and a code word for state censorship.”

Straight, 2008-2012, steel rebar (38 tons) that was recovered from the rubble of collapsed schoolhouses in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Close-up of the rebar. They look like textiles or cinnamon sticks, but knowing their grim provenance is chilling.

A security guard stands watch among Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads installation. It’s the artist’s first major U.S. public art project.

Framed view of the Zodiac Heads. The sculptures are “re-envisioned versions of the original 18th century heads that were designed during the Qing dynasty for…an imperial retreat outside Beijing which was pillaged in 1860.”

I left the exhibition inspired, bemused and convinced that “art certainly is the vehicle for us to develop any new ideas, to be creative, to extend our imagination, to change the current conditions.”

Ai Weiwei: According to What? runs through February 24, 2013.

Hirshhorn Museum | 7th Street and Independence Avenue, SW |Washington, DC 20560 | 202.633.4674 | hirshhorn.si.edu

*from a BBC profile of Ai Weiwei.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. […] calories, stress-free and culturally rich! At the Hirshhorn, in contrast to the eclectic pieces in Ai Weiwei’s oeuvre, we experienced conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s site-specific installation […]

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  2. […] of being a first-time homeowner). I also saw art exhibitions (Gaultier at the DeYoung Museum and Ai Weiwei at the Hirshhorn were especially enjoyable), daydreamed about a beach vacation, captured the angst and elation of […]

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