“Ai Weiwei: According to What?”

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Cathy Carver
Ai Weiwei, Colored Vases, 2007–10, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, New York Photographs, 1983–93
Collection of Larry Warsh
Ai Weiwei, Coca-Cola Vase, 2007
Collection of Larry Warsh
Ai Weiwei, Table with Two Legs on the Wall, 2008
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, Moon Chest, 2008
Collection of the Faurschou Foundation
Ai Weiwei, Map of China, 2008
Collection of Honus Tandijono
Ai Weiwei, Kippe, 2006
John Heineman
Ai Weiwei, Forever Bicycles, 2013, detail
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, Stacked 2012, detail
Cathy Carver
Ai Weiwei, He Xie, 2010
Cathy Carver
Ai Weiwei, He Xie, 2010, detail
Cathy Carver
Installation view
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, Marble Helmet, 2010
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, Ai Weiwei In The Elevator When Taken into Custody by the Police, 2009
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D, 2011-13
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, R itual detail from S.A.C.R.E.D, 2011-2013
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, Accusers, detail from S.A.C.R.E.D, 2011-2013
Cathy Carver
Ai Weiwei, Snake Ceiling, 2009
© Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei, Straight, 2008–12
© Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei, Straight, 2008–12, detail

The Brooklyn Museum’s Ai Weiwei retrospective has a before-and-after quality, befitting the artist’s career. Once a darling of Chinese officials, and codesigner of the “bird nest” stadium that was Beijing’s 2008 Olympics centerpiece, Ai became a vocal opponent of government policies, and in 2011, he was briefly imprisoned on charges of tax fraud.

Now free, he’s no longer allowed to leave China. He’s still permitted to communicate with the outside world, however, and to produce works of art that, judging from the examples here (a large installation of ceramic crabs; a huge, undulating carpet of rebar salvaged from a schoolhouse destroyed by an earthquake), haven’t suffered from his travails in terms of scale or ambition. Just the opposite, in fact.

Arguably, Ai’s situation has rebounded to his advantage, attracting worldwide attention and acclaim. This isn’t to dispute his evident courage, only to say that the wages of dissent in the globalist era are far more complicated than simply being thrown in the gulag. For instance, along with Ai’s installation of six enormous steel boxes containing dioramas that picture his time in jail, the museum has parked a display case filled with Ai-branded scarves and mugs near the elevator.

What the show does reveal is that from the very beginning—represented here by photos of the young artist’s sojourn in ’80s New York—Ai’s greatest artifact was himself, presented as a singular figure in Chinese history. That he certainly is, which has made it difficult to judge his work on aesthetic merit alone. Nonetheless, “According to What?” adds up to a powerful statement of artistic resolve.

—Howard Halle

Event phone: 718-638-5000
Event website: http://brooklynmuseum.org

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3 people listening

This is a fantastic collection of Ai's most recognizable and loved works. It really is a wonderful exhibition, anyone who is a fan of Ai WeiWei should definitely check it out!