artist: ai weiwei (pt. 2)

Ai Weiwei at the Hirshhorn, yadda yadda yadda. This is a continuation of my previous post, but I’m too busy with thesis to post insightful detail. Ah, exhaustion. So voila. These three were some of the larger pieces in the exhibit.

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“Names of the Student Earthquake Victims Found by the Citizens’ Investigation and Remembrance”

When you go upstairs into the main gallery space, this curved wall is what greets you. It’s basically a giant spreadsheet and looks kind of neat, like someone’s idea of creative wallpapering. But then you hear it. The names being read. Huh? Then you read the description of the piece. They’re the names of the dead children. And then you feel like you’re going to cry. And the starkness of the rows and columns feels so inadequate. And it reminds you of 9/11 and then you really, really wanna cry.

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“Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads”

This was considered a separate exhibit to the “According to What?” exhibition, but whatever, it’s all Ai Weiwei. The Hirshhorn is basically a giant hovering donut. In the center of the space situated around the fountain were 12 sculptures representing the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. I didn’t really like my dragon. I think he looks weird. Neat, but I didn’t really like their placement around the fountain – found it distracting.

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“Cube Light” (2008)

To be honest, I’m not really sure what to make of this piece. Ai Weiwei’s work is successful because of the political/cultural/social messages … but this is just glitzy. It is pretty though. Nice and sparkly. Shiny. Perhaps it’s a commentary on China’s vapid turn to the purely aesthetic? While “Cube Light” is impressive … is it really by Ai Weiwei? Really?

The end. Back to thesis now.

artist: ai weiwei (pt. 1)

Ai Weiwei. Yep, him again. It seems like nowadays everyone knows of the Chinese artist/dissident. His show at the Hirshhorn in DC was called “According to What?” and ran from October 7, 2012, to February 24, 2013. So yes, this means that I have been sitting on this post for … quite a while. Forgive me!

There was a pretty fascinating article about Ai Weiwei in The New Republic that’s worth a read. “Noble and Ignoble” by Jed Perl is basically about how Ai Weiwei kind of sucks as an artist, and while I kind of like Ai Weiwei’s work, I do agree that the work (which is fairly minimal in itself) owes a lot of its impact to the figure of Ai Weiwei the political dissident and not to Ai Weiwei the artist. But that’s his whole schtick anyway.

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“Colored Vases” (2007-2010)

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“Grapes” (2010)

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“Tea House” (2009)

My favorite piece was “Tea House” … but I’ve always been quite the minimalist myself and I like tea! A lot of Ai Weiwei’s work relies on having a basis of knowledge and interest in contemporary China and reading that in his works in order to fully flesh it out. Without that support, the artwork is nice but bland. Whatever. He’s making an appearance in my thesis. Then again, pretty much everyone/anyone who has/had anything to say about China is making an appearance in my thesis – it’s a monster (in a small package).

artist: david hammons

Do you know who David Hammons is? The contemporary African-American artist? The one whose sculpture is in the Hirshhorn’s permanent collection? Well, I didn’t. That is, not until I went to the Hirshhorn, saw this sculpture, and looked him up.

The sculpture is an untitled piece from 1989, made out of glass bottles and silicone glue. I thought it was pretty amazing. What could be more simple, more perfect than a circle? But then there are the components – the individual glass bottles – that are connected in a way that seems so natural and unforced given the shape of the bottles and the invisibility of the adhesive.

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A lot of his work deals with the civil rights movement from his heyday during the 1970s and 1980s. And though this particular sculpture has a distant, minimalist feel, it’s not. It’s not pure form, pure materiality, or pure object. It’s not a circle formed by the repetition of that particular angle; it’s actually a flattened spiral with slight irregularities. The glass is not clean and sterile; they are bottles of Night Train, a brand of bum/street wine. The sculpture is more than an object; it is a commentary on racial stereotypes, creating a sense of high art out of low trash.