A new exhibition in Washington, DC. by the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei which uses Wood fragments from dismantled temples has opened at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. “Fragments,” explores the role of tradition amidst the reality of living in China’s rapidly changing environment. The work is on view for the first time in the U S as part of “Perspectives,” the Sackler’s contemporary art series. It features prolific Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s monumental installation Fragments (2005). Noting the abundance of antique wood on the market, Ai had a number of pieces transported from Guangdong to his studio in Beijing to create a series of objects and installations. Fragments is a culmination of that body of work. Working with a team of skilled carpenters, Ai turned pillars and beams of ironwood (or tieli) salvaged from several dismantled Qing dynasty temples into a large-scale, seemingly chaotic work, which he calls an “irrational structure.” Yet examined more closely, one discovers that the installation is an elaborate system of masterful joinery and delicate balance relations. Seen from above, the entire complex is anchored by poles marking out the borders of a map of China. Through his simultaneously destructive and creative process, Ai highlights the bewildering reality that we live in the midst of a world undergoing rapid spatial and social transformations. Perspectives: Ai Weiwei is presented concurrently with a retrospective of Ai Weiwei’s works at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. “‘Fragments’ reminds us that our relationship to the past and notions of heritage is fluid and complex” said Carol Huh, associate curator for contemporary art and curator of the “Perspectives” series. “The ironwood began life hundreds of years ago; Ai has brought these disassembled pieces together in a new context, as if defining another stage in the evolution of this ancient material.”
An apparently “irrational structure,” “Fragments” is in fact a delicately balanced network of ironwood pillars and beams realized with the assistance of a team of traditional Chinese carpenters. Drawing on the 2,000-year-old Chinese technique of “post and beam” construction, the installation is held together by an elaborate system of joinery whose seemingly random posts anchor a scale outline of China. Using salvaged materials and reimagining them in a radically different form, Ai highlights the simultaneously destructive and creative process that is constantly transforming the Chinese landscape.
“Perspectives: Ai Weiwei” is presented concurrently with a retrospective of Ai’s works at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. “Zodiac Heads” opened at the Hirshhorn April 19, and will be followed by the exhibition “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” in October 2012, on view through February 2013.
Born in 1957 in Beijing, Ai has become one of the most renowned artists of his time. His practice spans a range of media, from sculpture, installations, video and photography to architecture. Many of his projects are characterized by a collaborative approach and public engagement that express his deep concern for the role of art in Chinese society and the everyday lives of individuals. Ai has been the subject of numerous exhibitions and publications worldwide. During recent years, Ai’s relationship with the Chinese authorities has been contentious. In 2011, he was detained and put under house arrest until June 2012.
The exhibition runs from May 12–April 7, 2013.