'Map of China''Ai Weiwei: According to What?'
Oct. 7-Feb. 24,
Hirshhorn Museum, Washington
Artist Ai Weiwei has become exponentially visible in recent years for his social activism, amplified by his well-documented travails with the Chinese government. But opportunities to actually see the art by which Mr. Ai first made his name have been limited.
"According to What?," the first major survey in the United States of Mr. Ai's work, opens Oct. 7 at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum in Washington. The show later travels to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Art Gallery of Ontario, Pérez Art Museum Miami and Brooklyn Museum.
"According to What?" originated in 2009 at Tokyo's Mori Art Museum, curated by chief curator Mami Kataoka. It includes early work of Mr. Ai's, such as his "New York Photographs" (1983-93, shown at the Asia Society in New York last year); and signature pieces where he reinvents Chinese relics as art objects by destroying them ("Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn," 1995/2009, "Coca-Cola Vase," 2007). There's also new work made since the Mori exhibition.
His prolific blog and Twitter activism have raised the ire of the Chinese government. But Mr. Ai's art work also frequently engages with contemporary Chinese social and political issues, (see 'Map of China,' right), commenting on government corruption or mismanagement through metaphor, such as the installation piece "Snake Ceiling," composed of varyingly sized backpacks to represent school children crushed by poor school construction during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
"By doing this retrospective we hope to draw attention back to the art work itself," said Kerry Brougher, Hirshhorn deputy director and chief curator, who organized the Washington show with assistant curator Mika Yoshitake. "It's a real mixture of traditional concepts in Chinese art mixed with contemporary issues that only Ai Weiwei can do."
The Mori and the Hirshhorn began talks about bringing "According to What?" to North America in 2009. By the time Mr. Ai was arrested and detained for 81 days last year by Chinese authorities, the Hirshhorn had already mapped out a floor plan for the exhibition, Mr. Brougher said.
Mr. Ai was prohibited from traveling outside Beijing for a year after his detention. While the probation was lifted earlier this summer, Mr. Ai has said that he is still unable to travel due to further investigations. The Hirshhorn said the artist and his assistants have been asked to come to Washington for the installation of "According to What?"
Bellini-Ricciotti/Louvre Museum/Philippe Ruault
The new space will allow the Louvre to display a far greater proportion of the 18,000 works in its little-seen Islamic collection.
Illuminating IslamDepartements des Arts de I'Islam
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Opens Sept. 22
With a gold-and-silver glass roof reminiscent of a magic carpet or a sand dune, the Louvre's new wing for Islamic art is the museum's biggest construction project since the 1980s: more than 32,000 feet of gallery space carved out of what had been a palace courtyard.
The new space will allow the Louvre to display a far greater proportion of the 18,000 works in its little-seen Islamic collection. Culled from the Islam-dominated world, from Cordoba to Samarkand, the works include a collection of ancient calligraphy books, which will rotate, and a rebuilt 15th-century porch from a Cairo residence that had been languishing in boxes for more than a century.
"We want to focus on what is common in Islamic art, from the Alhambra to the Taj Mahal, as well as its extreme diversity," said Sophie Makariou, who oversees the new wing.
The exhibition is displayed in roughly chronological order: The oldest objects, dating from the early Islamic expansion after the death of Muhammad in the seventh century, are on the ground floor. They include objects from the courts in first caliphs in Cairo, Baghdad and Cordoba.
The exhibition continues in the basement, which displays works from later periods, such as ancient tapestry, pottery and jewels from the Ottoman, the Safavid and Mughal Empires.
Among the most prized objects on display: an 11th-century ewer, or ornamental pitcher, made from a single block of natural crystal and brought to France in 1152 by Crusaders.
For the state-owned museum, the €100 million ($125 million) project is in part aimed at making a friendly gesture toward Muslim countries. Government and foundation money from Saudi Arabia, Oman and Morocco, among others, helped fund the wing.
By blending nonreligious Islamic artifacts alongside devotional works, the museum is also making something of its own political point, too. Ms. Makariou says that mixture of works "is fundamental to giving back Islam its greatness, and not leaving it to jihadists and those who sully it."