DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, December 31, 2012

Monkeys Grasp for the Moon

If you visit the Sackler Gallery, a Smithsonian museum of Asian art on the National Mall which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, be sure to check out the massive metal sculpted piece to the left of the information desk. The work by Chinese artist Xu Bing, especially commissioned for the facility, towers from the small pool at the bottom of the museum to the artistic main skylight.

Basically, the piece, entitled "Monkeys Grasp for the Moon," is Bing's interpretation of a classic Chinese folktale. In his creation, Bing uses word shapes from 21 different languages including English, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, and Braille. The word shapes resemble monkeys, stretched at the beginning and the end, to form long tails that link them together. You can walk down the winding staircases to determine which word shapes represent which of the languages.

In the original Chinese story, a group of monkeys want to try to capture the moon's reflection in a shimmering pool of water. Linking arms and tails to form a chain, they reach down from a high tree branch to touch the moon's form as it shimmers on the water's surface.

To their dismay, the moon always vanished at the very moment they tried to grasp it. And the moral of the tale - those things that we most desire to achieve may prove to be nothing but an illusion.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
One of the great things about revisiting museums regularly is you get a chance to discover artifacts and art works that you previously missed. Such was the case for us with "Monkeys Grasp for the Moon." We were actually in the museum to revisit the incredible, one-week-only 3-D exhibit Pure Land, a virtual reality trip to ancient Chinese Buddhist caves now closed to the public (profiled elsewhere in this blog). While we were standing in line for the 3-D exhibit, my wife noticed the sculptured piece which we obviously had missed on our previous trips to the Sackler. So, after leaving the Pure Land showing, we returned to check out the unique monkey sculpture. Just another reason why we are so glad to live in the DC area. We can pop in to events and exhibitions just about any time we want.

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