The Museum Across the Bridge

This Sunday I knew I was going to Brooklyn… interesting things happening there. The Botanical Garden is celebrating Sakura Matsui (Cherry Blossom Festival) with traditional Japanese taiko drumming and martial arts, Japanese classical dances, an all-female marching band, anime rock from Tokyo and a samurai sword play… while the Brooklyn Museum is showing a number of very interesting artists including Ai WeiWei from China. The decision was made for me when the day dawned all chilly and windy… definitely a day to stay indoors. So the museum it was.


Brooklyn Museum is New York City’s second largest museum and has an extensive collection of antiquities from all over the world. The Egyptian, African, Oceanic, and South East Asian collections are so large that only a part of them can be displayed at any time. That too, with an area of 560,000 square feet!
In addition to the historical artefacts in the various galleries, the museum also displays works of contemporary artists. Currently on view are controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, artist and author Judy Chicago and street artist Swoon. Other prominent exhibitions currently on are Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, and Connecting Cultures. Fortunately, the museum allows photography in most of the areas, sans the flash of course. So that was a delightful Sunday indeed!


When looking at Ai Weiweiis art, the first thing that impressed me is the creative ways in which he has used art as an expression of his activism. The person speaking loudest from behind each of the exhibits at the show is the activist, not the artist. And that is essentially the power of his art.


Just take a look at this… six iron boxes the size of small rooms. You can step on a stool and look inside through a small square of glass. What you see inside is Weiwei while he was imprisoned by the Chinese government in 2011. These dioramas named ‘S.A.C.R.E.D’ show him sleeping, eating, showering, undergoing interrogation and sitting on the toilet, all under the watchful eyes of guards.


A strong criticism of the Chinese government’s handling of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan is presented in the exhibit ‘Straight’ which displays tons of long reinforced steel bars from the Sichuan earthquake sites, straightened and laid out on the floor like rippling water. Another piece of art ‘Snake Ceiling’ shows a giant snake made up of children’s backpacks to commemorate the thousands of children who died in the earthquake.

Seeing the crowd around his ‘painted vases’, I couldn’t help wondering about the value of political art as opposed to art for art’s sake. Especially in the context of the Dropping the Urn stunt and the follow-on act at Miami with a million dollar Ai Weiwei vase. 🙂

Swoon has made a name for herself as a street artist. And her show ‘Submerged Motherland’ is an installation consisting of a huge tree, made of pieces of cloth and old canal boats people lived on. The tree with white paper leaves in the typical swoon style, is a pretty sight. Though it is doubtful whether the artist would appreciate the adjective ‘pretty’!


Once an editor, always an editor; is that true? Anyway, I was walking through the Judy Chicago show and caught a typo – ‘she changed her same’ instead of ‘she changed her name’! Unfortunately, that was one part of the show where photography was prohibited. Anyways, I made a point of going to the Information counter and reporting the typo. Good deed for the day, done!


And any talk about this visit to the Brooklyn Museum will not be complete without this beautiful painting by Georgia O’Keefe… and not a single flower in sight! What a joy!


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