Symbolic Cities: The Work of Ahmed Mater
Born in 1979 in southern Saudi Arabia and trained as a medical doctor, Ahmed Mater has been a practicing artist since the early 1990s, creating works that offer an unparalleled perspective on contemporary Saudi Arabia. Now based in Jeddah, Mater has focused primarily on photography and video since 2010. From abandoned desert cities to the extraordinary transformation of Mecca, Symbolic Cities presents his visual and aural journeys observing economic and urban change in Saudi Arabia. The exhibition, the first in the United States solely dedicated to Mater, also debuts new works based on his extensive research on Riyadh’s development.
Perspectives: Lara Baladi
Egyptian-Lebanese artist Lara Baladi (born 1969) experiments with the photographic medium, investigating its history and its role in shaping perceptions of the Middle East—particularly Egypt, where she is based. This installation centers on Oum el Dounia (The Mother of the World), a large-scale tapestry based on a photographic collage. Employing both archival material and Baladi's own images, the work was transformed into a tapestry in 2007 through the use of a digital loom. Oum el Dounia reflects Baladi's interest in the proliferation of images of Egypt, and in how technology and interactivity affect the creation, dissemination, and preservation of visual narratives.
Peacock Room REMIX:
Darren Waterston’s Filthy Lucre
Filthy Lucre, an immersive installation by painter Darren Waterston, reimagines James McNeill Whistler's famed Peacock Room—an icon of American art—as a decadent ruin collapsing under the weight of its own creative excess. Forging a link between inventive and destructive forces, Filthy Lucre forms the centerpiece of an unprecedented exhibition that highlights the complicated tensions between art and money, ego and patronage, and acts of creative expression in the nineteenth century and today.
During the eighteen-month run of Peacock Room REMIX, a series of related installations are presented in conjunction with Filthy Lucre. First on view are Whistler's portraits of the Leyland family and Waterston's preparatory studies for his installation (May 16 to early January 2016). A second phase, The Lost Symphony: Whistler and the Perfection of Art (January to May 2016), highlights the history of a painting Leyland commissioned for the Peacock Room but Whistler never completed. Chinamania (June to January 2017) explores the enduring craze for Chinese blue-and-white porcelain in the West.
Peacock Room REMIX is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Darren Waterston's installation Filthy Lucre, 2013–14, was created by the artist in collaboration with MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts.
Xu Bing: Monkeys Grasping for the Moon
Monkeys Grasping for the Moon is a suspended sculpture designed specifically for the Sackler Gallery by Chinese artist Xu Bing (born 1955), as part of an October 2001 exhibition of his work titled Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing. The popular temporary display was re-created to permanently remain at the Sackler, with craftspeople from the Smithsonian’s Office of Exhibits Central working with Xu and Sackler staff to engineer and fabricate the complex artwork. Composed of twenty-one laminated wood pieces, each of which forms the word “monkey” in one of a dozen languages, the linked vertebrates flow from the sky-lit atrium through the Gallery’s stairwell down to the reflecting pool on the bottom level. A panel on every floor of the museum guides visitors through the represented languages, which include Indonesian, Urdu, Hebrew, and Braille. The work is based on a Chinese folktale in which a group of monkeys attempt to capture the moon. Linking arms and tails, they form a chain reaching down from the branch of a tree to the moon, only to discover that it is a shimmering reflection on the surface of a pool lying beneath them.
Xu Bing’s monumental sculpture is presented by the family of Madame Chiang Kai-shek (Chiang Soong Mayling, 1898–2003) in commemoration of her historic visits to the Joint Session of Congress in 1943 and a memorable return to the U.S. Capitol in 1995.