“Ai Weiwei: According to What?” at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., is the first North American survey of work by the Chinese artist and activist. The exhibition is a compilation of new and old works based on his 2009 show at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum.
Ai is known as many things: an artist, an activist, a prankster and the co-designer of the famous “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Yet, his definition of himself and his art is constantly evolving, as indicated in his artist statement for the Hirshhorn exhibition:
“I’ve experienced dramatic changes in my living and working conditions over the past few years, and this exhibition has been an opportunity to re-examine 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.”
“Ai Weiwei: According to What?” displays his versatility, showcasing sculpture, video, photography and large installations. Much of his work explores his political struggle, which Ai says dates back to his childhood when he witnessed his poet father being treated as “an enemy of the state.”
Ai has had several run-ins with the Chinese authorities himself, including perhaps most famously his three-month detention in 2011.
“I am able naturally to conceive of works that confront the accepted ethical or aesthetic views,” explained Ai. “I’ve always believed it is essential for contemporary artists to question established assumptions and challenge beliefs. This has never changed.”
Jeffrey Brown spoke with Kerry Brougher, chief curator at the Hirshhorn Museum, and Alison Klayman, filmmaker of “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.” We also posed questions to Ai through a producer based in Beijing. Below are excerpts from those three interviews:
We’ll post Tuesday night’s segment from the show here later this evening.
In October, Ai released a parody video of “Gangnam Style,” the music video by the South Korean rapper PSY that has been watched more than 930 million times on YouTube. Ai’s video was immediately blocked by Chinese authorities, because, according to Ai, it mocked the government’s efforts to silence his activism. (The video is a protest against the forced demolition of the home of a friend of Ai.)
In China, Ai said, happiness is always being taken away from people, but that every day we can try to create laughter and bring happiness to others. There is a reference to his own detention by authorities: During part of the “Gangnam Style” dance, Ai is wearing handcuffs:
“Ai Weiwei: According to What?” will be on display at the Hirshhorn Museum through Feb. 24, 2013.
We have more on Ai over on the Rundown, where he discusses Chinese leadership and censorship.