Mami Kataoka, chief curator, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, and originator of “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” (coming Oct. 7 to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden)
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum
The Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, which is currently displaying Ai Weiwei‘s Circle of Animals in its sculpture garden, has applied for a visa to allow the Chinese dissident artist to assist in the installation and to attend the opening of the survey exhibition, Ai Weiwei: According to What?, Oct. 7-Feb. 24.
In response to my recent query, the museum said that it is “optimistic” that the artist, although still at odds with the authorities, will be allowed to make the trip. The museum “will know in a month or so if it [the visa] has been approved,” a spokesperson told me. Originated by the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, the show (if not the artist) will travel to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Apr. 5-July 28, 2013.
Ai has been subject to a year-long travel ban since his release from 81 days of detention. He was required to remain in Beijing during that period. Whether he will be free to travel after June 22, the anniversary of his release, is anyone’s guess. His relationship with government authorities remains prickly; his spirit, defiant. He is currently engaged in a tax dispute with the Chinese government and has very recently spoken out forcefully, yet again, about the details of his detention in a publicity blitz that has included interviews with Edward Wong of the NY Times, Mark MacKinnon of Toronto’s Globe and Mail and Malcolm Moore of the London Telegraph.
From Mori chief curator Mami Kataoka‘s description at a recent New York City press breakfast, the show at the Hirshhorn will pack a wallop. Based on the 2009 exhibition that Kataoka curated for the Mori, the Washington iteration has been revised and updated (with Ai’s collaboration) to include very recent pieces. About one-third of the works will be different from those Tokyo version, according to Kerry Brougher, the Hirshhorn’s deputy director and chief curator.
One of the most notable (and weighty) additions will be a piece from Ai’s “Rebar Series”—a monumental work constructed from the steel reinforcement bars that he retrieved from the rubble of a school that collapsed (in part because of allegedly shoddy construction) in the deadly 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
Another work that was designed to call attention to the possibly avoidable deaths of the trapped schoolchildren is constructed from their backpacks, also found in the rubble:
“Snake Ceiling,” 2009, installation view at Mori Art Museum
Photo: Watanabe Osamu, courtesy of the Mori Art Museum
The show will also include the Hirshhorn’s own recent acquisition:
Ai Weiwei “Cube Light,” 2008, Hirshhorn Museum
Photo courtesy of Galerie Urs Meile
Another Ai piece, his monumental “Fragments,” 2005, composed of is currently on view at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery (to Apr. 7, 2013):
In a written statement distributed at the press breakfast, Hirshhorn director Richard Koshalek (who did not attend), called this show, “highly appropriate to the Hirshhorn’s expanding international engagement and sphere of action….The Hirshhorn is…identifying leading artists around the world, such as Ai Weiwei, who are exerting powerful influences for change through their actions as well as their work. These artists will have an increased presence throughout the Hirshhorn’s programs.”
Four or five of the approximately 35 works in the Ai Weiwei retrospective will be loaned from the private collection of Larry Warsh, founder of AW Asia, a private organization promoting sales and exhibitions of Chinese contemporary art. Warsh, who sells and donates works to museums from his own extensive collection, hosted the Hirshhorn’s New York press briefing in AW Asia’s Chelsea exhibition gallery—a somewhat unorthodox pairing of nonprofit and for-profit.
Also unusual is the Hirshhorn’s fundraising gambit for this show: It is trying to raise some $35,000 to support the exhibition through online donations. So far, according to the donation webpage, only one person has clicked the “Give” button, contributing $50.
This gives me traumatic flashbacks to my stalled Send CultureGrrl to Philadelphia campaign, in which I sought $450 to pay for my two nights’ hotel, but came up with $110. If you thought my recent Barnes Foundation-related posts were of interest, your support would be greatly appreciated.