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  • Paula Tiberius

Ai Wei-Wei At Pérez Art Museum Miami

The art world’s been abuzz for months about the opening of the brand new Pérez Art Museum Miami. It’s a huge civic project that developer Jorge M. Pérez put his name to after donating $40M and a chunk of his personal collection. Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron (who designed the Tate in London) wanted to create a space that lured people from the beach and blended in with the jungle foliage, and as you can see, the vertical gardens are already starting to do that. There were also lots of pylons and yellow vests, as a brand new science museum is under construction next door.

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Perez exterior

The building is two floors of art, mostly lined with floor to ceiling windows – you can actually SEE art from the outside! Who does that? The slatted overhangs protect the work from sunlight damage.

A detail of the vertical gardens, which they were still busy planting.

Below, an outdoor courtyard gave us our first introduction to the current visiting exhibition, the work of Chinese activist-artist Ai Wei-Wei. He created twelve zodiac sculptures in homage to similar sculptures restored to China after being looted during the Opium Wars from a made for an 18th century imperial Palace. They correspond to a calendar year of a 12-year lunar cycle.

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Ai Wei-Wei is a contemporary Chinese artist activist who creates works in sculpture, installation, architecture, film, photography and now music, as he’s just released a new album called “The Divine Comedy” to commemorate the second anniversary of his release from prison after an 81-day ‘secret’ detention by the Chinese government in 2011. He’s highly critical of the government’s ongoing human rights violations and incorporates these themes into his work.

This famous picture that went all around the world instantly on social media, captures Wei-Wei and his police captors who beat and detained him so that he would be unable to testify at fellow activist Tan Zuoren’s trial in 2009.

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His investigation into the 2008 Sichuan schools corruption scandal resulted in this chilling exhibit that took up half of an enormous room at the Pérez. One wall was dedicated to the names of the 5,000 children who were killed by the earthquake that struck their inadequately built schools. Look at all those names, people!!  : ( And this doesn’t even address the 90,000 people in total who were killed or went missing.

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The government was busy covering up the tragic scandal, but Wei-Wei dug deeper, touring the wreckage, and collecting hundreds of pieces of mangled rebar which he painstakingly straightened to make this installation called “Straight.”

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It signifies the enormous weight of the cover up by the government and its sinister goal to act as if nothing had ever happened. It reminds us of the dangers of being forgotten.

Another installation, called “Stacked,” is an enormous sculpture made from Forever brand bicycles, a company that started production in 1940 and became the biggest bicycle company in China. Ironically, the Forever bicycles are beginning to disappear from Chinese streets now. Wei-Wei nods to Marcel Duchamp’s ‘ready-mades’ here – kind of a Bicycle Wheel on steroids.

Stacked -Wei-Wei

This less political piece below was absolutely beautiful and riveting. Made from precious Quince wood, “Moon Chest” depicts every phase of the moon’s cycle as you walk through it.  Cool! Apparently there are  usually 81 of them, but they had seven here.

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The main stairway of the gallery goes right past a seated theater, an interesting architectural choice that could possibly bite them in the ass with some exhibitions, but hey- I’m no architect or curator. Here they used the theater to show quotes from Wei-Wei. We sat and watch them for quite a while, but I’ll just share a few with you. Apologies if you’re reading this on your phone.

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Isn’t he awesome?

There were other pieces too, such as “He Xie,” a giant circle of crabs that signify the 10,000 plus “river of  crabs” he served to invited Twitter guests (among others) in response to the imminent demolition of his newly constructed studio in Shanghai.  He was unable to attend himself because he was under house arrest.

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Quote from the plaque for this piece: “He Xie (river crab) metaphorically represents the restriction of individual expression and free speech in Chinese society. He Xie literally means “river crab,” but it is also a homophone for the word meaning “harmonious,” which is used in the Chinese Communist Party slogan “the realization of a harmonious society.” in the context of the Internet, the term refers to online censorship and the removal of anti-establishment views and information.”

And I would add, “Crabs in your face, Chinese government!!”

And check out these cool “Teahouses” made from real tea! A ‘warm minimalism’ is how the museum described these – sleek, unfettered objects, but conjuring cozy Chinese tea customs. They weigh over a ton each.

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There are permanent collections at the Pérez too, and I have to say that I was really impressed to see many, many female artists right up front in the first room! Here are a few – sorry about the florescent lighting reflected in the photos…

This is “Untitled (Pink),” (2009) a chromogenic print by Xaviera Simmons, a New York artist who uses landscapes to evoke memory and fiction, embedding characters into the site-specific constructions. I kind of love it.

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Here is “Outliers II” (2013) by Lisa Yuskavage, a mixed media piece that combines Baroque art-historical references with contemporary imagery, creating this weird Mad Max kind of environment for these cartoon-classic women characters.

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Naomi Fisher’s “Topless Boy” (2000) was fascinating to look at with its subversive sexuality. Imagine the same picture with a woman, and you begin to see the politics of it. Her father was a botanist – go figure.

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In the lobby they have a delightful exhibit called “For Those In Peril on the Sea” (2011) by a London artist Hew Locke. It’s a collection of model boats that just seems to make perfect sense when you turn around the other way and see the ocean extending for miles.

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Overall, I would give the Pérez a big thumbs up, and plan to return there as often as I visit Miami, at least until the ocean rises too far to enjoy it.

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