Ai Weiwei and Swoon: Politically Charged Blockbusters Energize the Brooklyn Museum
The Brooklyn Museum is on a good run of late, with a series of provocative, crowd-pleasing exhibitions by the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, El Anatsui, Keith Haring, and the Bruce High Quality Foundation. Now you can add two more to that list: Submerged Motherlands, a massive installation by the fabulous Swoon; and what could be the biggest blockbuster of any NYC museum this season, Ai Weiwei's career-spanning 'According to What?'. Running concurrently through most of the summer, both are well worth a trip on the 2/3/4/5 trains for a visit.
The Story of Ai Weiwei
The story of Ai Weiwei is familiar by now, how the rabble-rousing Chinese artist was still so respected by his government that his Bird's Nest stadium design was chosen for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics… until he railed against the corruption that led to tens of thousands of needless deaths in 2011 in the Sichuan earthquake, for which he was beaten, "disappeared", and locked up for 81 days on bogus tax evasion charges. For more on the artist, his incarceration, and the censorship he still struggles with today, I highly recommend the excellent documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, available now online for streaming.
Anyway, Ai Wewei's Brooklyn Museum show According to What? is filled with smart, angry, immediately engaging works. Most of the sculptural pieces or installations are best appreciated by reading the excellent accompanying notes. For example, Straight (below) is composed of 73 tons of rebar, scavenged from the rubble of the shoddily constructed schoolhouses in which so many thousands of children died in the earthquake, then straightened to look like new, a reflection of Chinese government's eagerness to act as if nothing ever happened. Powerful stuff, all of it. And don't miss Ai Weiwei's S.A.C.R.E.D. in the lobby, six dioramas–you have to peek though the tiny windows (above)–depicting the artist's claustrophobic life in jail.
Ai Weiwei: According to What? will be at the Brooklyn Museum through August 10.
Swoon: Submerged Motherlands
And then there's Swoon, long one of my favorite street artists who also happens to have the given the best TED Talk in history, and who has now completely taken over the museum's fifth floor rotunda with Submerged Motherlands. This is a spectacular, site-specific installation that combines a towering sculptural tree, two of the hand-crafted-from-NYC-garbage boats from the group effort Swimming Cities of Serenissima (which still smell of the river, adding to the overall sensuality of the piece) and a dozen or so of Swoon's signature, intricately stenciled wheatpastes. The devastating effects of climate change–and, specifically, the destruction and displacement here in NYC wrought by Sandy–are clearly the spark to Swoon's creations here, but it's also all incredibly beautiful, as if maybe THIS is a better way to live after all?
Swoon: Submerged Motherlands will be there through August 24.
Visit the Brooklyn Museum's website for lots more information, including (very easy) directions.