— The Indianapolis Museum of Art will present the first major survey of the art of Ai Weiwei in North America. Featuring more than 20 years of works that explore such universal topics as culture, history, politics, and tradition, "Ai Weiwei: According to What?" will be on display in the Allen Whitehill Clowes Special Exhibition Gallery from April 5, 2013, to July 28, 2013.
Weiwei is one of China's most prolific and provocative artists. Throughout his career, he has offered insight into the interrelation between art, society, and individual experience. This retrospective exhibition will include examples from the broad spectrum of his artistic practice, from sculpture, photography, and video to site-specific architectural installations. The survey features more than 30 artworks, ranging from a series of more than 100 photographs taken when Weiwei lived in New York in the 1980s, to very recent works created specifically for this North American tour. This exhibition prompts viewers to consider: What exists? And more importantly, according to what does it exist? From what context did we emerge, and to where are we headed now?
"Ai Weiwei: According to What?" was organized by the Mori Art Museum in close collaboration with the artist and his studio, and premiered in Tokyo at the Mori Art Museum in 2009. The exhibition was substantially re-conceived for the North American tour to include more recent works and reflect the many changes that have taken place in Weiwei's career and life. The exhibition will be on view at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden from Oct. 7 to Feb. 24, 2013, before traveling to the IMA.
"The IMA is thrilled to bring to Indianapolis the artwork of the most controversial and important living artist in China," said Sarah Urist Green, curator of contemporary art. "Many people have heard of Ai Weiwei, but few in the United States have had the opportunity to see his remarkably diverse, poignant, and poetic body of work."
"Ai Weiwei: According to What?" marks the largest exhibition footprint in IMA history. Along with filling all 12,500 square feet of the primary exhibition space, works also will be sited strategically within other museum galleries and common areas to draw comparison with other works from the IMA collection and accommodate large-scale pieces. Visitors will encounter a sprawling mound of 3,000 porcelain crabs upon entering the IMA's Pulliam Family Great Hall, composing Ai's work "He Xie" (2010). Translating literally to "river crab," "He Xie" is also a homophone for the word meaning "harmonious" - a term used within a slogan for the Chinese Communist Party, but which has been co-opted by others to refer to online censorship and the restriction of free speech.
A new work created for "Ai Weiwei: According to What?" is a sculpture made from steel rebar that was salvaged from schools that collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The piece points to the inferior construction that caused many schools to collapse, while other Chinese government buildings remained unscathed. Employing more than 40 tons of salvaged rebar, "Wenchuan Steel Rebar" (2008Ð2012) is an indictment of the Chinese government and a reminder of the many young people who died in the earthquake.
Over the past several years, Weiwei has gained international recognition for his work in Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany, in 2007, and his collaboration with architects Herzog and de Meuron on the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Weiwei's focus on human rights and social change eventually led to his detainment by Chinese authorities in 2011 for nearly three months. The Chinese government later supplied charges of tax evasion against Weiwei, which he vehemently denies. Since his detainment, Weiwei has been kept under constant surveillance by the government - a circumstance that has led him to create a series of new works including a marble surveillance camera that will be part of this exhibition.
Weiwei made the following statement regarding the North American tour of "According to What?": "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?" tickets are $12 public, $6 for children ages 7 to 17, and free for IMA members and children 6 and younger. The IMA is at 4000 Michigan Road. For more information, call 923-1331 or visit the website imamuseum.org.