Ai Weiwei’s work is an audacious blend of old and new, Western and Eastern, serious and irreverent. He has translated the readymade into a new artistic language, fusing neolithic pottery, fourteenth-century doors and seventeenth-century temple beams into surprising, at times shocking sculptures. He has documented his disdain for authority by giving the finger to the Tiananmen in Beijing, the Reichstag in Berlin and the White House in Washington (Study of Perspective, 1993-2005). And he has captured the mundane urban sprawl of his home city in a 150-hour video (Beijing 2003, 2003) that even dwarfs Andy Warhol's notorious eight-hour Empire.
Ai Weiwei grew up on the edge of the Gobi desert in China's Western provinces. In the late 1970s he moved to Beijing, banding together with other pro-democracy artists in a loose collective known as the Stars group. In 1981, following government retaliation against of their exhibitions, he moved to New York, where he attended art school and lived for twelve years, eventually returning to China when his father fell ill in 1993. Settling in Beijing, Ai became a rallying figure in a burgeoning new art scene. Taking up his art in earnest, he also emerged as a surprising and celebrated architect. (In addition to his numerous commissions for buildings in Beijing and beyond, he provided Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron with the inspiration for their celebrated Beijing National Stadium, home to the 2008 Olympics.)
What marks Ai as a truly twenty-first-century artist is precisely this multiplicity of roles: not just artist, designer and architect, but also curator, publisher, Web blogger and compass for an entire generation of Beijing artists. His outsize public persona is an integral part of his art. Although his outspoken views have brought him unwanted attention from the State, they have also generated excitement far beyond China's borders. His work has been increasingly featured in the world's most significant exhibitions, including Documenta 12 (2007), the 5th Asia-Pacific Triennial (2007) and the 15th Biennale of Sydney (2006), in the process providing the world with a inside view into one of the most exciting new art scenes.
Karen smith's SURVEY traces the artist's remarkable career from his early days in Beijing to his discovery of the Western avant-garde in New York and his recent emergence as a celebrated sculptor and architect. In the INTERVIEW Hans Ulrich Obrist discusses with the artist his father's artistic training and subsequent exile and the effects they had on his own views on art and authority. Bernard Fibicher's FOCUS looks at the monumental light sculpture Descending Light (2007). ARTIST'S CHOICE features a poem by Ai Qing, one of China's most important twentieth-century writers. Artist's Writings include entries from Ai's blog, seen by millions of visitors each year and celebrated for its thoughtful and candid remarks on the subjects of art, politics and culture.