Ai Weiwei in Indy

Yesterday I visited The Indianapolis Museum of Art’s current exhibition of the work of Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist, political activist, and all-around provocateur. The exhibit, entitled Ai Weiwei: According to What?, has a large number of his works including examples of his series of “studies in perspective” in which he flicks off the White House and Tiananmen. Some of his pieces rely on salvaged materials that are reassembled using traditional Chinese joining techniques, including his iconic Map of China. Photographs from his period in New York are featured including a few taken of him with Allen Ginsburg, and another of the young artist imitating Andy Warhol. Some of the works are much less visually striking than others, but often the process and message behind them are more important that the actual works themselves. I felt this was especially the case with his most politically significant work in the exhibit in which he critiques the Chinese government’s handling of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province. In the last room of the exhibit, the 5,000+ names of children killed in poorly-constructed school buildings are posted on the wall and read through a speaker with a series of stacked pieces of rebar laying in the foreground. The stacks of rebar aren’t particularly impressive themselves, but the viewer learns that these were taken from buildings destroyed in the earthquake and painstakingly re-straightened by Ai Weiwei and his assistants. In attempting to set right what he sees as wrong, oftentimes in open provocation of the Chinese government, Ai Weiwei does his most powerful work.

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