Ai Weiwei

(b. 1957)

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(1957– )

Chinese multimedia artist, born in Beijing. His family was sent into exile a year after he was born and his contempt for the political system led him in 1981 to exile in New York, where he discovered Dada. Under its influence he made objects such as Safe Sex (1986), a blue raincoat with a condom attached. He returned to China in 1993, initially to visit his sick father, but stayed when he discovered that new elements on the cultural scene provided a more promising context for his practice as an artist. In 2000 he organized a mixed exhibition in Shanghai entitled ‘Fuck Off!’, the name signalling not so much obscenity as refusal to cooperate. The exhibition was deliberately chaotic and without a curatorial brief, as an alternative to the dominance of cliques around leading artists and critics in China. Some of the provocative Dadaist aspect of his work remains. He has made a series of works in which museum-quality antique vases have been covered with garish paint and commercial logos and in one instance dropped from a great height. He is combining the Western legacy of Duchamp (who probably did not really mean it when he said ‘Use a Rembrandt as an ironing board’) with a specifically Chinese resonance. Ai Weiwei's generation was instructed by Mao to ‘Smash the old’. In China he is sometimes referred to as a ‘Renaissance man’ because of his breadth of activity. He has experience as an architect, and this was brought to the fore in a piece made for Liverpool in 2007 when he presented an illuminated version of Vladimir Tatlin's Monument to the Third International. In documenta in the same year he created a work entitled Fairytale in which 1001 Chinese people who had never previously left the country would be guests in Kassel. To complement this Ai installed 1001 chairs from the Qing dynasty. He was the artistic consultant for the ‘bird's nest’ stadium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but he subsequently distanced himself from the project, refusing to be photographed beside it, claiming that the pomp of the Olympics was being used to mask the true nature of Chinese society.

Subjects: Art.

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