Kemper Museum reopens with Ai Weiwei’s ‘Bare Life’ exhibition

| Senior Editor

The Kemper Art Museum celebrated reopening its doors with a special exhibition by contemporary Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei Sept. 28.

The special exhibition features more than 35 works from Ai and is arranged into two thematic clusters: “Bare Life” and “Rupture.”

The show includes work from the past two decades in a wide variety of media including film, photography, sculptures, installations and mural-sized wallpapers. It is Ai’s first major Midwestern exhibition.

The exhibit follows the decade-long tradition of the Kemper showing works that explore the connection between art and politics. Sabine Eckmann, director and chief curator of the museum, said that it is Ai’s advancement of both conceptual art and realism that propelled her desire to work with him.

Christine Watridge | Student Life

Professor Eileen G’Sell and Liam Otten discuss “Forever Bicycles” by Ai Weiwei at the opening of Kemper Art Museum’s special exhibition, “Bare Life.” The exhibition features more than 35 works from contemporary Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, and is featured in the Kemper’s expanded galleries.

“You will not find one textbook of Western Art History in which you will find an artist pursuing both conceptual art, inviting and redoing and recreating the legacy of the ready-made which goes all the way back to Marcel Duchamp, and pushing forward at the same time a narrative form of realism that is politically engaged,” Eckmann said.

Ai explained that all the works were site-specific due to the unique architectural spaces of each museum, the way the works come together and how a viewer approaches a work. He also emphasized how the finished exhibition fits into the new Kemper space, complementing the architecture.

“I’ve been so privileged and honored to have my show in this unique space,” Ai said. “I am an artist of 100 shows, museum shows, but rarely do you have this satisfaction of the total presentation.”

Natalie Snyder, a junior working as a student educator for the museum, is in charge of engaging people in conversations about the particular work “Forever Bicycle,” and gave background about Ai’s art practice.

“The good thing about ‘Forever Bicycles,’ and all the pieces in here, is that there are so many levels of meaning and interpretation that it’s not even about what is your favorite work of art but what is your favorite layer to all of this,” Snyder said.

Snyder also added that she is excited to have art so close on campus again and to have an entire museum open and easily accessible.

“ [The museum] was open when I was a freshman, so I saw a bit of the old Kemper,” Snyder said. “I’m really excited; I missed having art so close on campus, especially because if you’re in Sam Fox you can just walk in whenever you want. You can definitely feel that loss.”

Eckmann emphasized that students have the opportunity to engage with the Kemper’s resources through tours and class walk-throughs, along with a student panel responding to “Bare Life” and a symposium which will be held Nov. 15 and 16.

The expansion of the Kemper included a 50% increase in display space and a stainless steel facade, visible from even beyond Washington University’s campus. The downstairs galleries are not yet completed, but will tentatively be opened at the beginning of the spring semester, according to Eckmann. The space will include a teaching gallery, which can be used by faculty around campus to curate exhibitions in connection to their courses.

Eckmann also voiced her hopes for the new lobby space on the ground floor to be a place for discussion, debate and exchange.

“For the first time we can have lectures in the museum, we can have readings, we can have performances. So I hope that it will become this kind of space of exchange, also a public interface for the University,” Eckmann said. “I hope that it will become a space of discussion, of debate, but also where we enjoy ourselves and we get to know ourselves.”

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