Hirshhorn Museum opens Ai Weiwei. According to What?

Hirshhorn Museum presents Ai Weiwei: According to What? the first North American survey of the work of the foremost figure to emerge from the rapidly expanding Chinese contemporary art scene. On view Oct. 7 through Feb. 24, 2013. Encompassing sculpture, photography, installation, video and audio work, this full-floor exhibition has been significantly revised and updated from the 2009 version of the show organized by the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. It features many works made since 2009, when the Hirshhorn began working with the Mori on the current version of the exhibition, including several that have never been exhibited before.

Ai Weiwei From top to bottom: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995/2009; Colored Vases, 2007-2010. Installation view of Ai Weiwei: According to What? at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., 2012. Photo: Cathy Carver

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. Beijing, 1957) is known for such major projects as “Fairytale,” for which he brought 1,001 Chinese citizens to Documenta 12 in 2007; his collaboration with architects Herzog & de Meuron on the design for the main stadium—the “Bird’s Nest”—for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing; and his installation of 100 million hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2010. He has also garnered attention for embracing the Internet and social media as active platforms for commentary and art forms in their own right. Throughout his career, he has offered insights into the interrelations between art, society and individual experience and has explored such universal topics as culture, history, politics and tradition.

“Ai Weiwei: According to What?” occupies the full circuit of the second-level galleries and spaces on the third level. “Cube Light” (2008), a seminal work in the artist’s chandelier series and a major acquisition by the Hirshhorn, occupies an entire gallery. Nearly 14 feet on each side, the piece both echoes and plays with the minimalist form established by artists such as Donald Judd. At the same time, Ai cites the example of Sergei Eisenstein’s 1928 film October, in which a chandelier, shaking during the storming of the Winter Palace, represents the instability of a government on the brink of collapse.

“Ai Weiwei: According to What?” will travel to four venues in the U.S. and Canada, but only at the Hirshhorn will the exhibition be accompanied by “Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads,” a monumental 12-part sculptural suite by the artist. Installed around the perimeter of the fountain on the museum’s plaza, the work will also be on view until Feb. 24, 2013. “These exhibitions are highly appropriate to the Hirshhorn’s expanding international engagement and sphere of action,” said Hirshhorn Director Richard Koshalek. “As the museum approaches its 40th anniversary, this larger outlook pertains not only to exhibitions that go beyond more conventional offerings, but to the curating of public space, significant acquisitions such as ‘Cube Light’ and educational programs that bespeak deep research and thematic content relevant to contemporary life.”

Since 2009 Ai has become increasingly known for his outspoken political activism, which takes numerous forms and resulted in his detention in 2011 for 81 days by Chinese authorities. “I’ve experienced dramatic changes in my living and working conditions over the past few years,” Ai has stated, “and this exhibition has been an opportunity to reexamine past work and communicate with audiences from afar. I see it as a stream of activities rather than a fixed entity. It is part of a continual process in self-expression.” (A full version of the statement issued by Ai in April 2012 is available on the Hirshhorn’s website.

“Ai Weiwei: According to What?” is organized by Kataoka at the Mori Art Museum and by the Hirshhorn. The exhibition is made possible with generous support from André Stockamp and Christopher Tsai, Tsai Capital Corporation; members of the Committee for the Artist’s Voice; the Holenia Trust Fund, in memory of Joseph H. Hirshhorn; and the Hirshhorn’s Board of Trustees. The Hirshhorn has also begun an online fundraising campaign through causes.com.

For more information about exhibitions and events, please visit hirshhorn.si.edu