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“Ai Weiwei: According to What?”

Critics' pick
1/20
Cathy Carver
Ai Weiwei, Colored Vases, 2007–10, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995
2/20
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, New York Photographs, 1983–93
3/20
Collection of Larry Warsh
Ai Weiwei, Coca-Cola Vase, 2007
4/20
Collection of Larry Warsh
Ai Weiwei, Table with Two Legs on the Wall, 2008
5/20
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, Moon Chest, 2008
6/20
Collection of the Faurschou Foundation
Ai Weiwei, Map of China, 2008
7/20
Collection of Honus Tandijono
Ai Weiwei, Kippe, 2006
8/20
John Heineman
Ai Weiwei, Forever Bicycles, 2013, detail
9/20
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, Stacked 2012, detail
10/20
Cathy Carver
Ai Weiwei, He Xie, 2010
11/20
Cathy Carver
Ai Weiwei, He Xie, 2010, detail
12/20
Cathy Carver
Installation view
13/20
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, Marble Helmet, 2010
14/20
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, Ai Weiwei In The Elevator When Taken into Custody by the Police, 2009
15/20
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D, 2011-13
16/20
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, R itual detail from S.A.C.R.E.D, 2011-2013
17/20
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
Ai Weiwei, Accusers, detail from S.A.C.R.E.D, 2011-2013
18/20
Cathy Carver
Ai Weiwei, Snake Ceiling, 2009
19/20
© Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei, Straight, 2008–12
20/20
© 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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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!