Everything is Art. Everything is Politics: Ai Weiwei at the Brooklyn Museum

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See this review published on Metro New York May 5, 2014.

Political activism manifests in many forms, and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei perfected the craft of activist art. Featuring over forty works spanning twenty years, Ai Weiwei: According to What? explores topics of culture, history, politics, and tradition, showcasing the artist’s interdisciplinary career.

“Everything is Art. Everything is Politics,” stated Weiwei, and his mesmerizing artworks take on grander meaning than their meditative designs. Growing up during the Cultural Revolution (1966-75), the protests that defined an age of relentless reform took shape in his aesthetic protest-art. Weiwei’s installations and surveillance video and photography are intertwined with the global political landscape. In the guise of minimalist art, Weiwei appropriates China’s historical past—and the events of this communist country’s present—to create large installations that beautifully bring awareness to China’s future.

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Weiwei continually appropriates China’s history in his work. In a series of pieces created out of wood, Weiwei utilized woodworking techniques of the Han Dynasty (20 BCE–220 AD) when artisans fashioned furniture without the use of screws. The results are masterful puzzles where wood fits together through patience rather than engineering. In Moon Chest (2008), 7 chests built from huali—the wood of the Chinese quince tree—are placed consecutively in a row. Each chest has four circular openings, transforming them from furniture into art as viewers are invited to stare through the circles fashioned after a waning moon.

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Notable pieces that also involve preserving the past through provocative actions are Colored Vases (2007‒10) and Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995). Each piece involves defaming Han dynasty artifacts through industrial paint or literal destruction. His peaceful—yet political—demonstrations do not come without repercussions—in 2011 he was arrested for alleged economic crimes. Luckily, his time behind bars will forever be treasured in his Selfie (2011), which he took in police elevators en route to his 81-day detention. Ai Weiwei: According to What? recognizes socially engaged art as a peaceful way to raise awareness about universal topics of human rights and cultural reform.

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