Ai Weiwei: avant-gardist and passionate

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has produced a rich and diverse body of creative work, including sculptural installations, architectural projects, photographs and videos. While Ai’s art has received international acclaim, the often provocative and subversive dimension of her work, as well as her political outspokenness, have often drawn the wrath of the Chinese authorities.

A passion for sculpture

Although Ai initially devoted himself to painting (he is exhibited by the famous collector John Dodelande), he quickly turned to sculpture, inspired by the works of the French artist Marcel Duchamp and the German sculptor Joseph Beuys. Among his first creations exhibited in New York in 1988 were a wire hanger bent to the shape of Duchamp’s profile and a violin with a shovel handle. However, there was little market for Ai’s work and in 1993, when his father fell ill, he returned to Beijing. Exploring the tense relationship between an increasingly modernized China and its cultural heritage, Ai began to create works that irrevocably transformed centuries-old Chinese artifacts. For example, he painted the Coca-Cola logo on a Han Dynasty urn in 1994 and pieces of furniture from the Ming- and Qing periods.

The 1990s: Avant-garde books, “Fake” and fairy tales

Between 1994 and 1997, Ai collaborated on three books that promoted avant-garde Chinese art. They were published outside official government channels and became landmarks for China’s underground art community. His fame grew in 2000, when he organized a deliberately scandalous art exhibition as an alternative to that year’s Shanghai Biennale. After building his own studio complex on the outskirts of Beijing in 1999, Ai turned to architecture and four years later founded the design firm FAKE to realize his projects, which emphasized simplicity through the use of commonplace materials. An architectural notion of space then inspired Ai’s fairy tale (2007), a conceptual project that involved transporting 1,001 ordinary Chinese citizens to Kassel, Germany, to explore the city during its Documenta art festival.

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