Media only: Brenda Kean Tabor: 202.633.0523
Barbara Kram: 202.633.0520
Public only: 202.633.1000
One after another, interlocking hand to tail in this nearly 86-foot sculpture, a new breed of international monkeys has found a permanent home in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. They tease the visitors and encourage a careful investigation. Are the shapes actually monkeys? Is there a deeper meaning to their playful forms, or is this artwork just for fun?
The answer is “yes” to all of the above.
“Monkeys Grasp for the Moon,” a suspended sculpture designed specifically for the Sackler Gallery, was created by expatriate Chinese artist Xu Bing (b. 1955) as part of a solo exhibition of his work in October 2001 titled, Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing. The popular temporary display was re-created under Xu Bing’s supervision to enable it to remain at the Sackler Gallery on permanent view. Skilled craftspeople from the Smithsonian’s Office of Exhibits Central worked with Xu Bing and Sackler staff to engineer and fabricate this highly complex artwork, marking the first time the Smithsonian has worked directly with a contemporary artist to build an artwork.
Comprised of 21 laminated wood pieces, which each form the word “monkey” in a dozen different languages, the linked vertebrates flow from the sky-lit atrium through the gallery’s stairwell, down to the third-level reflecting pool. This work is based on a Chinese folk tale 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’s shimmering reflection on the surface of a pool lying beneath them, only to discover the things we work hardest to achieve may prove to be nothing but an illusion.
The permanent version of Xu Bing’s monumental sculpture, installed to coincide with the Chinese “Year of the Monkey,” is given to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery 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. Grandnephew Michael Feng stated, “Madame Chiang was a great friend of America, and she had an abiding affection for her people. The family is delighted to make this gift to the American people in memory of her extraordinary life.”
Visitors to the gallery will find a panel on every level of the museum guiding them through each represented language, which includes Indonesian, Urdu, Hebrew, Braille and 8 others. The galleries’ innovative ImaginAsia family programs, on-going throughout the summer, celebrate the Year of the Monkey with additional hands-on programs. For programming specifics, visit asia.si.edu.
The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Dec. 25 and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the special, exhibition-related section of the galleries’ Web site at asia.si.edu.