Shadow Sites: Recent Work by Jananne Al-Ani
August 25, 2012–February 10, 2013
Inspired by both archival photographs and contemporary news reports, Jananne Al-Ani has created a new body of work that explores enduring representations of the Middle Eastern landscape. Shadow Sites II (2011), her most recent video installation, is exhibited alongside a selection of extraordinary original prints by renowned archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld (1879–1948). Separated by nearly a century, these works pose fascinating questions about the impact of photography on views of the Middle East. This exhibition is a highlight of the Sackler Gallery's 25th anniversary celebration in 2012.
Perspectives: Ai Weiwei
May 12, 2012–April 7, 2013
This exhibition 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 (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.
Reinventing the Wheel: Japanese Ceramics 1930–2000
Xu Bing: Monkeys Grasping for the Moon
Monkeys Grasping for the Moon is a suspended sculpture designed specifically for the Sackler Gallery by Chinese artist Xu Bing (born 1955), as part of an October 2001 exhibition of his work titled Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing. The popular temporary display was re-created to permanently remain at the Sackler, with craftspeople from the Smithsonian’s Office of Exhibits Central working with Xu and Sackler staff to engineer and fabricate the complex artwork. Composed of twenty-one laminated wood pieces, each of which forms the word “monkey” in one of a dozen languages, the linked vertebrates flow from the sky-lit atrium through the Gallery’s stairwell down to the reflecting pool on the bottom level. A panel on every floor of the museum guides visitors through the represented languages, which include Indonesian, Urdu, Hebrew, and Braille. The work is based on a Chinese folktale in which a group of monkeys attempt to capture the moon. Linking arms and tails, they form a chain reaching down from the branch of a tree to the moon, only to discover that it is a shimmering reflection on the surface of a pool lying beneath them.
Xu Bing’s monumental sculpture is presented by the family of Madame Chiang Kai-shek (Chiang Soong Mayling, 1898–2003) in commemoration of her historic visits to the Joint Session of Congress in 1943 and a memorable return to the U.S. Capitol in 1995.