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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.
1957 Born in Beijing, China 1981 Graduated Beijing Film Academy, Beijing 1982 Parsons School of Design, New York 2011 Honorary Academician at the Royal Academy of Arts, London 2013 Appraisers Association of America Award for Excellence in the Arts 2018 Marina Kellen French Outstanding Contributions to the Arts Award 2019 Frank-Schirrmacher-Prize Lives and works between the UK and PortugalExhibitions
2022 In Search of Humanity, Albertina Modern, Vienna, Austria 2021 National 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
2020 Purgatory, Aedes Architecture Forum, Berlin, Germany
History of Bombs, Imperial War Museum, London, UK
2019 Ai 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
2018 Life Cycle, Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles, USA
The Activist Artist, Fundación CorpArtes, Santiago, Chile
Laundromat, Garage Gallery, Fire Station, Doha, Qatar
2017 Inoculation, 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
2016 Schwimmwesten-Installation (Life Jacket Installation), Konzerthaus Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, Germany
Ai Weiwei, translocation – transformation, 21er Haus, Vienna, Austria
2015 Ai Weiwei, Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK 2014 Evidence, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany
According to What?, Pérez Art Museum Miami, USA
2012 Ai Weiwei – Interlacing, Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria 2011 Circle 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
2010 So Sorry, Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany
Ai Weiwei – Sunflower Seeds 2010, Tate Modern, London, UK
2009 Ai Weiwei – ACCORDING TO WHAT ?, MORI ART MUSEUM, Tokio, Japan 2008 Under Construction, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Campbelltown Arts Center, Sydney, Australia
Go China: Ai Weiwei, Groningen Museum, Groningen, Germany
2004 Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Caermersklooster - Provinciaal Cenrtrum voor Kunst en Cultuur, Ghent, Belgium
1988 Old Shoes - Safe Sex, Art Waves Gallery, New York, USA 1982 Asian Foundation, San Francisco, USA
2021 Legacies of Exchange: Chinese Contemporary Art from the Yuz Foundation, Resnick Pavilion, LACMA, Los Angeles, USA
Lovely Creatures, Ludwig Forum, Aachen, Germany
2020 Curators' 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
2018 21st Biennale of Sydney, Sydney, Australia 2017 Extra 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
2014 Genius Loci - Spirit of Place, 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture, Venice, Italy 2013 German Pavillon, 55th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy 2011 MMK 1991-2011: 20 Jahre Gegenwart, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, Germany 2010 29th São Paulo Biennial, São Paulo, Brazil 2008 Liverpool Biennial International 08: Made Up, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, UK 2007 documenta 12, Kassel, Germany
We are the future, 2nd Moskow Biennial of Contemporary Art, Art Centre Winzavod, Moscow
2006 Mahjong – 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
2005 The 2nd Guangzhou Triennial, Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China
1st Monpellier Biennial of Chinese Contemporary Art, Montpellier, France
2004 The 9th International Architecture Exhibition, The Venice Biennial, Venice, Italy 1996 Begegnung mit China, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen, Germany 1993 Chinese Contemporary Art – The Stars 15 Years, Tokyo Gallery, Tokyo, Japan 1987 The Star at Harvard: Chinese Dissident Art, Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA 1979 The first Star Exhibition, outside the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China