Ai Weiwei: Bare Life

Visitors viewing Ai Weiwei: Bare Life during the Member and WashU Community Preview. Photo: Virginia Harold.

Posted by Liam Otten September 24, 2019


Chinese dissident artist and activist Ai Weiwei is internationally known for rigorous, compassionate, and complex artworks that address themes of political, ethical and social urgency. On Saturday, September 28, the newly expanded and renovated Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis will reopen with Ai Weiwei: Bare Life, a major exhibition collecting dozens of artworks created over the last two decades.

The exhibition will feature a series of large-scale and site-specific projects. These include the sculpture Souvenir from Shanghai (2012), composed of rubble from Ai's Shanghai studio, which was demolished in 2011 by the city government; and Through (2007–08), a monumental installation constructed from immense wooden pillars sourced from demolished temples, which has never been previously exhibited in the United States.

Bombs (2019) is a monumental new wallpaper created for this exhibit in the Museum's Saligman Family Atrium. Measuring approximately 65 feet long and 36 feet high, the piece features full-scale renderings of 43 weapons of mass destruction, including aerial bombs and missiles developed by the United States, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Israel. The weapons are arranged left to right chronologically—from a grenade used in the Italo-Turkish War in 1911 to a guided nuclear bomb created in 2019—and bottom to top by destructive power. The most devastating weapons loom overhead on the atrium's vaulted ceiling, their ominous visual weight underscoring the sense of increasingly lethal power.

Other highlights include the mesmerizing Forever Bicycles (2019), a new, large-scale, site-specific installation composed of 720 bicycles; Provisional Landscapes (2002–08), a wallpaper created from a series of more than 100 photographs depicting the transition of urban spaces as older, traditional buildings are destroyed to make way for new construction; and the Odyssey frieze (2016), which covers two of the gallery's walls, an immense wallpaper installation narrating the journey of those forced to flee their homelands.

Opening events

On September 26, Sabine Eckmann, the William T. Kemper director and chief curator of the Kemper Art Museum, will host a "sold-out" Assembly Series Q&A with Ai in the University's 560 Music Center. In addition, the Kemper Art Museum will present a special exhibition preview for Museum members and the university community on Friday, September 27. The preview is free but RSVPs are requested.

Other events, including lectures, gallery talks, film screenings, and more, will continue throughout the semester. For more information, call 314-935-5490 or visit