Ai Weiwei Chinese, b. 1957
"The art always wins. Anything can happen to me, but the art will stay" - Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei is one of the most well-known, influential, and prolific artists active in China today. Working in sculpture, photography, film, installation, design, music, and architecture, Ai engages political and cultural criticism to investigate instances of government corruption and cover-ups, confronting China's stance on democracy and human rights. Ai often uses aesthetic strategies related to Conceptual Art as well as readymade objects in the lineage of Marcel Duchamp (who, along with Andy Warhol, profoundly influenced Ai's artistic practice), frequently in direct juxtaposition with traditional Chinese materials and production methods.
Ai's father was the well-known Chinese modern poet Ai Qing; the family was sent to a labor camp as a result of his father's denouncement during the 1957-59 Anti-Rightist Movement purge, and they were subsequently exiled to Shihezi, Xinjiang, in far Western China. The family only returned to Beijing in 1976, at the end of the Cultural Revolution, after which Ai studied animation at the Beijing Film Academy and co-founded the avant-garde art group Stars with fellow artists Ma Desheng, Wang Keping, Huang Rui, Li Shuang, Zhong Acheng, and Qui Leilei. He then spent a little over a decade in New York, where he briefly attended the Parsons School of Design as well as the Art Students League. Ai began taking photographs between 1983 and 1993, while living in Manhattan's East Village, and in 1993, upon his returned to China, he continued producing art in Beijing, where he built a home and studio.
In 2008, Ai was commissioned to collaborate with the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron on the "Bird's Nest" stadium for the Beijing Olympics; he later referred to the project as a "pretend smile of bad taste." In May of the following year, Ai's influential and widely-read blog, where he published scathing criticisms of Chinese government policies, was shut down. That August, the artist was beaten by Chinese police for trying to testify for Tan Zuoren, with whom he had investigated the aftermath-student casualties as well as poorly constructed buildings and infrastructure-of the devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake that shook the Sichuan province in May of 2008. Also as a result of his activist work, in 2011, AI was arrested and held for 81 days without being charged with any crime. His series "SACRED," which premiered in Venice during the 2013 Biennale, directly drew on his detainment experience (his arrest was loudly protested by governments, artists, and individuals across the globe).
Ai's work has been shown in major solo exhibitions at New York's Brooklyn Museum, Munich's Pinakothek der Moderne, Seville's Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo, and Washington D.C.'s Smithsonian Institution, among many others. He represented Germany at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, and he has won numerous international awards, including an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art, the St. Moritz Masters Lifetime Achievement Award by Cartier, and the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent of the Human Rights Foundation. Ai lives and works in Beijing; he is currently prohibited from traveling outside of China.