Xu Bing: Monkeys Grasp for the Moon

2004 – Indefinitely

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
1050 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC

Sky-lit Atrium to Sublevel 3 Floor Plan

This whimsical sculpture was originally created as a temporary display by expatriate Chinese artist Xu Bing (b. 1955) for the 2001 exhibition Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing. In order for it to remain on permanent view, it was re-created under Xu Bing's supervision and was given to the museum by the family of Madame Chiang Kai-shek in 2004 to coincide with the Year of the Monkey. This sculpture—suspended from the sky-lit atrium down to the 3rd-level reflecting pool—is composed of 21 laminated wood pieces, with each forming the word "monkey" in a dozen different languages. Based on a Chinese folktale, the monkeys linked arms and tails to form a chain to reach down to the pool below to capture the shimmering moon, only to discover it was a reflection. Moral: We often waste much time on futile goals.