YouTube: https://youtube.com/watch?v=nDwTjPsG4b0
Previous: GIFs, JIFs, Whip Pans, Trivia, and BATMAN!
Next: What's Up with Start Ups

Categories

Statistics

View count:376,515
Likes:22,402
Dislikes:126
Comments:2,049
Duration:03:45
Uploaded:2013-05-21
Last sync:2019-06-13 08:10
Sarah does not appear in vlogbrothers videos, but you can follow her on tumblr: http://absolumentmoderne.tumblr.com

In which John visits the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where his wife is a curator, and thinks about the work of the artist and dissident Ai Weiwei while walking through "According to What," his first major retrospective in the United States. If you live in or near Indianapolis, you should really see the show. It's very special, and will be here until July 21st.

My tumblr: http://fishingboatproceeds.tumblr.com
My twitter: http://www.twitter.com/realjohngreen
Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday. I finished filming CrashCourse US History early yesterday so I drove down to the Indianapolis Museum of Art where Sarah is a curator. By the way, we have our own spring snow in Indianapolis! Walked into the museum and then into the entry lobby, currently home to this installation by the great Spencer Finch called "Following Nature," which Sarah curated, and which abstractly recreates Monet's famous garden at Giverny.

Upstairs I went to visit "Ai Weiwei: According to What?" I think Ai Weiwei is probably the most important artist alive, and my wife, not to brag, is responsible for this show's only tour stop in the Midwest. The show follows Ai's entire career. He lived in New York from 1981-1993, hanging out with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, working as a photojournalist, taking many pictures of himself, and then he returned to China and worked in the artist community Beijing East Village which included many Chinese performance artists who'd later become, like, wildly famous. But you've probably never heard of them, Hank, because this isn't really your scene. And it's kinda like trying to explain to someone how super famous and amazing DailyGrace is, and they're just like, "Oh, you mean the girl from the Lowe's commercials?"

Anyway, Ai Weiwei went on to his Lowe's commercial, consulting on the Bird's Nest from the Beijing Olympics, which you probably do remember, although he later distanced himself from it, calling the entire affair "a pretend to smile," which, if you remember the Beijing opening ceremony... yeah.

He has continued to take pictures of himself including this one when he was detained by the police and beaten so badly that he suffered a subdural hematoma. He uploaded that selfie to Twitter, by the way. Ai is primarily famous on tumblr for flicking off important buildings, but his work is very broad, and -- as is often the case with contemporary art -- it can be difficult to see what's so interesting without context. Like these sculptures, each made of more than 2,000 lbs. of pressed tea leaves, call to mind the minimalist sculptures of the likes of Donald Judd and Carl Andre. But Ai uses distinctly Chinese material, material that has long been imported by the West. What is being appropriated, and by whom, in these cultural and economic exchanges? Or look at this neolithic vase painted with the Coke logo. Or this triptych of Ai dropping a Han Dynasty urn. How do we respond when confronted with the reality that the destruction of the old is inherent to creating anything new?

These are interesting and important questions -- both for art historians and for regular people -- but by far my favorite work in the Ai Weiwei show is this: 38 tons of steel rebar arranged in undulating waves. After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Ai went there and photographed the rescue efforts, the destroyed buildings, the awful clusters of backpacks belonging to dead children. Many blame shoddy construction by corrupt government contractors for the collapse of so many schools. More than 5,000 children died, and Ai spearheaded the project to record their names. As you stand in the gallery, you hear those names read aloud. This is one of the saddest wall labels I've ever seen: "Recording time: 3 hours, 41 minutes." All this steel is from destroyed schools. It was bent and buckled by the earthquake, and then Ai and his assistants hammered all of it, all 38 tons of it, straight again.

"Poetry makes nothing happen," W. H. Auden once famously wrote. "It is a way of happening, a mouth." Straightening this rebar didn't bring back those children or hold the shoddy contractors accountable. It made nothing happen. But the way of happening threatens the Chinese government enough that they detain and threaten Ai Weiwei because, in a world supersaturated with tragic statistics where even photographs and videos can lose their punch, Ai found a way to bring form to love, and anger, and grief. That's why good art matters so much, Hank, and why it has always mattered, even if it does make nothing happen. I'll see you on Friday. (Names of dead children read aloud at the exhibit)