Ai Weiwei, born in 1957 in Beijing, is often referred to as China’s most famous artist.
Sculptor, performer, photographer, architect, curator and blogger, he is known internationally for his provocative and political art. He is an opposition figure to the Chinese government and an emblem of freedom of expression in China, openly criticizing the Chinese government’s position on democracy and human rights. Ai was among the first generation of students to study abroad following China’s reform in 1980, and lived in the United States from 1981 to 1993, attending the Arts Students League of New York, the University of Pennslvania and the University of California, Berkeley.
His varied visual art includes sculptural installations, woodworking, video and photography. As an architect, Ai was artistic advisor to the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron on the design of Beijing’s national stadium built for the 2008 Summer Olympics. In 2011, Ai Weiwei was arrested in Beijing for “economic crimes,” and detained for 81 days without charge. Ai Weiwei: According to What, presented in 2012 at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, was Ai’s first North American museum retrospective. In 2015, Ai received Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award for showing exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights, through his life and work.
In 2018, he was honored with the Marina Kellen French Outstanding Contributions to the Arts Award granted by the Americans for the Arts. After being allowed to leave China in 2015, he has lived in Berlin, Germany, and, since 2019, in Cambridge, UK, working and traveling internationally.
Portrait : photography of Gao Yuan, courtesy of the Studio Ai Weiwei