Ai Weiwei at Hirshhorn

This city is lucky. Because of having the Smithsonian Institution in its area, Washington, DC gets to see many great exhibitions of art. This time is noted Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei. His retrospective at the Hirshhorn opened recently.

Friends had seen the show and raved about the three long rooms of his work from the 1980s until work completed this year. One friend enjoyed the black and white photographs that the artist took while living in New York City during the 1980s. Others liked the colorful photographs of the making of the Olympic stadium in Beijing. Photographs document changes over time and you can see the construction site as it was bare through the hosting of the games. What was particularly interesting in the exhibit was the placement of some of these photographs on the floor. You walk over some of them, giving you the ability to see the building from “on top.”

When you enter the room, you see a green snake. The snake has a long history in the world’s religions as a tempter but also as a rejuvenator of life.

 

The snake fit nicely with the theme of animals and the Chinese Zodiac that adorned the garden outside the museum building that Weiwei created.

 

The most spectacular pieces shown were the constructions that Weiwei made. An amazing large piece called map of China involved taking a beautiful red wood from an old Qing Dynasty temple and fashioning it together so that the top of the piece showed the mainland of China.

A second wood construction from the same material also proved striking.

A protest piece of porcelain crabs proved striking for its reference to Chinese culture but also for his comment about political suppression under the Chinese government.

 

The show works well for people who know little about China’s culture and history. It is richer for those who do.

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