Ai Weiwei - Pictures, Art, Photography

Ai Weiwei

Background Information about Ai Weiwei


Study of perspective

Back in the 1990s, a series of photographs by a then largely unknown Chinese artist caught the public’s eye. The series was entitled Study of Perspective. In the photographs, the artist showed his outstretched middle finger from the picture’s subjective perspective, thus linking the gesture to the symbols of power in the background, such as Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square. The middle finger, used to shift perspective, made Ai Wei Wei famous overnight and has since found numerous imitators. Now as a glass sculpture executed in six colours, his photographic-conceptual device assumes sculptural form. By virtue of their materiality and form, the sculptures liberate themselves from their traditional context, even though the sign remains in the form of a quotation. Thus, depending on colour, the sculpture unleashes new energies. Much like a versatile obelisk of resistance and liberty, the cumulative force of the gesture soars up from the base to emerge as the epitome of opposition.

The Papercut Portfolio

In his project The Papercut Portfolio Ai Weiwei blurs the lines between the political and the personal. Within the series he reflects upon his Chinese homeland, American culture, and his personal phases as an international artist. In eight artworks he captures different stages of his life and career. Including moments such as his time in New York, where he transitioned from a painter to a conceptual artist that would later achieve world recognition, his protest directed at the political establishment in Beijing in the form of a middle finger, and the wooden tower, his contribution to the 12th Documenta in Kassel. The series is a miniature retrospective of the last 40 years and a collection of controversial statements that have characterized the artist's creations from the very beginning of his career. It’s diverse, modern, and traditional at the same time.

By using this technique, the artist is continuing the tradition of Chinese paper cutting, an art form steeped in Chinese history and culture. On holidays and festive occasions, papercuts are hung about, not only to decorate houses but also in remembrance of important moments in history. The are no limits to the motifs that are depicted, they can be anything from plants, to animals, to mythological beings, to scenes from theatre, or simply ornamental. Paper cuttings have been traced back to the 4th century. In The Papercut Portofolio Ai Weiwei demonstrates his appreciation for the historic tradition of art making in his home country China, all while retaining his unmistakable flair for new interpretation. This concept links the papercuts with previous work by the artist. After all, Ai Weiwei has a history of creating artworks that reflect upon and reinterpret China’s historical and cultural goods and assets. In 2009, he took Han Dynasty vases, 2000 year old historical artifacts, and painted them in bright, flashy colors, radically modernizing them. And, if you look closely, you’ll realize that these vases can even be seen within The Papercut Portfolio, in works such as Cats and Dogs and Map of China.


Ai Weiwei is among the greats in contemporary art. His work is exhibited in internationally renowned museums and attracts tremendous media attention. He is also active as a film director, author, and curator. His entire oeuvre is characterized by critical dialogue, and his work aims to engage with social processes and spark discussion. For one installation on Berlin's Gendarmenmarkt, he used a myriad of life jackets to draw attention to the perilous journey so many African migrants are undertaking to cross the Mediterranean. He recently published an insightful documentary about the outbreak of the corona virus in the Chinese city of Wuhan.


In the late 1970s, Ai Weiwei studied at the Beijing Film Academy and founded a group of artists that eventually rebelled against the state-controlled cultural institutions and experimented with traditional art practices. After spending several years in the United States, during which he explored new art forms, he returned to China in the early 1990s and became increasingly involved in politics. From 2015 to 2019 he lived and worked in Berlin.



1957Born in Beijing, China
1981Graduated Beijing Film Academy, Beijing
1982Parsons School of Design, New York
2011Honorary Academician at the Royal Academy of Arts, London
2013Appraisers Association of America Award for Excellence in the Arts
2018Marina Kellen French Outstanding Contributions to the Arts Award
Lives and works between the UK and Portugal


2022In Search of Humanity, Albertina Modern, Vienna, Austria
2021National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea (MMCA), Seoul, South Korea
Intertwine. Pequi Tree, Roots and Human Figures, Serralves Museum, Porto, Portugal
Rapture, Cordoaria Nacional, Lisbon, Portugal
KaviarFactory, Lofoten, Norway
Trace, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, USA
2020Purgatory, Aedes Architecture Forum, Berlin, Germany
History of Bombs, Imperial War Museum, London, UK
2019Ai Weiwei: The Mueller Report / Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen Cahiers d'Art Revue, Paris, France
Everything is art. Everything is politics, K20, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Germany
Raiz, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
2018Life Cycle, Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles, USA
The Activist Artist, Fundación CorpArtes, Santiago, Chile
Laundromat, Garage Gallery, Fire Station, Doha, Qatar
2017Inoculation, Fundación PROA, Buenos Aires; Corpartes, Santiago; OCA, São Paulo, Brazil
Ai Weiwei. D'ailleurs c'est toujours les autres, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland
On Porcelain, Sakip Sabanci Museum, Istanbul, Turkey
Maybe, Maybe Not, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Ai Weiwei: Soleil Levant, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, Denmark
2016Schwimmwesten-Installation (Life Jacket Installation), Konzerthaus Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, Germany
Ai Weiwei, translocation – transformation, 21er Haus, Vienna, Austria
2015Ai Weiwei, Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK
2014Evidence, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany
According to What?, Pérez Art Museum Miami, USA
2012Ai Weiwei – Interlacing, Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria
2011Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads: Gold Series, Somerset House, London, UK
Dropping the UM (Ceramic Works, 5000 BC-AD 2010), Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK
Ai Weiwei in New York: Fotografien 1983-1993, Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany
Ai Weiwei Absent, Taipei Fine Art Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
2010So Sorry, Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany
Ai Weiwei – Sunflower Seeds 2010, Tate Modern, London, UK
2009Ai Weiwei – ACCORDING TO WHAT ?, MORI ART MUSEUM, Tokio, Japan
2008Under Construction, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Campbelltown Arts Center, Sydney, Australia
Go China: Ai Weiwei, Groningen Museum, Groningen, Germany
2004Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Caermersklooster - Provinciaal Cenrtrum voor Kunst en Cultuur, Ghent, Belgium
1988Old Shoes - Safe Sex, Art Waves Gallery, New York, USA
1982Asian Foundation, San Francisco, USA
2021Legacies of Exchange: Chinese Contemporary Art from the Yuz Foundation, Resnick Pavilion, LACMA, Los Angeles, USA
Lovely Creatures, Ludwig Forum, Aachen, Germany
2020Curators' selection. Summer Exhibition 2020, Royal Academy, London, UK
Facing the Collector. The Sigg Collection of Contemporary Art from China, Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Turin, Italy
201821st Biennale of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
2017Extra Bodies – The Use of the «Other Body» in Contemporary Art, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich
Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Yokohama Triennale 2017 - Islands, Constellations & Galapagos, Various venues, Yokohama, Japan
Hansel & Gretel: Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Ai Weiwei, Park Avenue Armory, New York, USA
2014Genius Loci - Spirit of Place, 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture, Venice, Italy
2013German Pavillon, 55th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
2011MMK 1991-2011: 20 Jahre Gegenwart, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
201029th São Paulo Biennial, São Paulo, Brazil
2008Liverpool Biennial International 08: Made Up, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
2007documenta 12, Kassel, Germany
We are the future, 2nd Moskow Biennial of Contemporary Art, Art Centre Winzavod, Moscow
2006Mahjong – Chinesische Gegenwartskunst aus der Sammlung Sigg, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg (Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern; Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, 2008; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, 2008; The Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, 2008)
Zones of Contact, 15th Biennial of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Territorial. Ai Weiwei und Serge Spitzer, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt/Main, Germany
Busan Biennial 2006, Busan Museum of Modern Art, Busan, South Korea
2005The 2nd Guangzhou Triennial, Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China
1st Monpellier Biennial of Chinese Contemporary Art, Montpellier, France
2004The 9th International Architecture Exhibition, The Venice Biennial, Venice, Italy
1996Begegnung mit China, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen, Germany
1993Chinese Contemporary Art – The Stars 15 Years, Tokyo Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
1987The Star at Harvard: Chinese Dissident Art, Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA
1979The first Star Exhibition, outside the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China