A Buyers Guide To Ai Weiwei

Fine sketches of arms and hands holding up a middle finger, printed on a red backgroundImage © Avant Arte / Middle Finger in Red © Ai Weiwei 2023
Jasper Tordoff

Jasper Tordoff, Specialist[email protected]

Interested in buying or selling
Ai Weiwei?

Browse artworks
Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei

27 works

If you are looking to invest in a contemporary artist who combines political activism, social commentary, and aesthetic innovation, you’ll need to consider Ai Weiwei. In this guide, we will introduce you to Ai Weiwei’s life and work, explain why his prints and editions are so sought-after, and offer some tips on how to start or expand your collection of his art. We will also show you how MyArtBroker can help you source and buy your first (or next!) Ai Weiwei print with ease and confidence. Whether you are a novice or an experienced collector, you can utilise the guide as a reference point for essential information on making informed decisions and reaping the benefits of owning an Ai Weiwei print.

“The art always wins. Anything can happen to me, but the art will stay.”
Ai Weiwei
Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei photographed in black and white with a scar on his head exposedImage © National Gallery of Canada / Portrait of Ai Weiwei © Gao Yuan 2010

Who is Ai Weiwei?

Currently living in Berlin, Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist and activist born in Beijing in 1957. Known as China’s ‘dissident artist’, he followed in the footsteps of his father, renowned poet Ai Qing who was exiled by the communist regime for his work.

Ai Weiwei studied at the Beijing Film Academy and joined The Stars Art Group, an artist avant-garde art collective that resisted state-backed guidelines on art and expression. In 1981 he moved to the United States and became influenced by the works of Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns. Upon his return to China in 1993, he became a leading figure in the contemporary art scene. He also collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron on the design of the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics.

Ai Weiwei is best known for his works that address social and political issues in China and beyond. He has been openly critical of the Chinese government’s regime and has investigated corruption and cover-ups, such as the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of “tofu-dreg schoolrooms” in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Ai has often created works that commemorate the victims of human rights violations, such as Sunflower Seeds, which consisted of 100 million porcelain seeds serving as symbols of childhood poverty and government propaganda in China. His style and process have also sparked architectural interest, with the artist collaborating with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron on the design of the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics.

Ai Weiwei is one of the most influential and controversial artists of our time, whose works have challenged the status quo, provoked dialogue, and inspired change. He has received numerous awards and honours for his art and activism including the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award in 2015, and the Honorary Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2018.

Nine circles arranged in a 3x3 grid with monochrome details, set on a white backgroundImage © Phillips / Serpentine Gallery Pavilion © Ai Weiwei 2012

The Political & Social Commentary of Ai Weiwei’s Art

Ai Weiwei’s political and social commentary often manifests in his art. Activism is the central component of Ai’s art making, and he has used his art to address both the corruption of the Chinese Communist government and its neglect of human rights, freedom of speech and individual expression. Ai has also used the internet as a medium for his art, despite restricted access in China. He has often taken to Twitter to publish social commentaries and galvanise support for dissident activities.

Here are some examples of Ai’s most political works:

Hua Hao Yue Yuan (2010)

The two-hour-long video “Hua Hao Yue Yuan” (Blissful Harmony) is an ironically-titled documentary that records the experiences of two Chinese activists who were arrested and abused by state officials for protesting against the Chinese Communist Party. Ai Weiwei interviews the victims, witnesses, and commentators to bring together a variety of views about the recent government crackdown on increasing dissent.

Study of Perspective (1995-2003)

This series consists of photographs of Ai Weiwei giving the middle finger to various landmarks around the world, including Tiananmen Square and the White House.

Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995)

A photographic series consisting of three black-and-white images that document Ai holding, dropping, and standing over the remains of a Han dynasty urn that was approximately 2,000 years old. The work d has been interpreted as a commentary on the relationship between contemporary China and its ancient past, as well as a critique of the Chinese government’s attitude towards cultural heritage.

Three consecutive photographs of artist Ai Weiwei dropping an urn onto the flooImage © Phillips / Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn © Ai Weiwei 1995

Why Invest in Ai Weiwei?

As a highly sought-after artist, Ai Weiwei's prints and limited edition works have become popular among art collectors and investors alike. So how can investing in Ai Weiwei's art can be a valuable addition to your investment portfolio?

While it's not 100% possible to predict the future value of an artwork, there are certain factors that can make an artwork a good investment. One of these factors is an artist's reputation. In Ai Weiwei’s case, he is widely regarded as one of the most significant artists of our time. His works have been exhibited in major galleries and museums around the world, and he has been the recipient of numerous awards for his contributions to contemporary art.

Aside from their investment potential, Ai Weiwei's art prints and limited edition works are also admired for their artistic merit. His works are known for their social commentary and thought-provoking nature, and collecting Ai Weiwei's art can provide an opportunity for art enthusiasts to engage with his ideas.

If Ai’s work is your first foray into the art market, investing in a printed edition can be a great way to diversify your investment portfolio. While traditional investment options such as stocks and bonds can be volatile, art investments tend to be more stable and less susceptible to market fluctuations. Adding Ai Weiwei's prints or limited edition works to your portfolio can provide a unique investment opportunity that is not tied to typical financial markets.

Seven rows of sketches in black and green, depicting war scenes and refugees seeking shelterImage © Printed Editions / The Odyssey © Ai Weiwei 2021

Tips for Building a Weiwei Print Collection

Collecting Ai Weiwei prints and editions can be a strong way to invest, but it’s important to do your research before making a purchase. Here are some tips for building a Weiwei print collection that you can be proud of:

Authenticate Ai Weiwei Prints & Editions

Before purchasing an Ai Weiwei print, it’s essential to authenticate its origins. Authenticity plays a crucial role in determining the value of a piece, especially for limited editions. It’s recommended to seek the assistance of an art expert, especially for first-time buyers. At MyArtBroker, our specialists can help you authenticate your Ai Weiwei prints and provide guidance on the best course of action.

Determine the Value of Ai Weiwei Prints & Editions

When considering an Ai Weiwei investment, it’s important to gauge the current market value. The value of a print can be influenced by various factors such as its rarity, edition size, condition, and provenance. In addition, you should aim to get access to auction results data, information on upcoming exhibitions, and precise market insights before making the investment. MyArtBroker’s world-leading print market index is the ideal solution for this, giving you a plethora of knowledge that you can use to finalise your decision.

Check the Condition of an Ai Weiwei Print

The condition of an Ai Weiwei print is crucial to its value and should be examined before purchasing. Prints should be checked for any damage or wear and tear that could affect their value. It’s important to note that certain printing techniques and materials may have inherent flaws that are considered part of the artwork's aesthetic value. Ai Weiwei is particularly known for his unique and innovative printing methods, so this is worth considering.

Working with an auction house or reputable dealer is crucial when it comes to assessing the value, condition and provenance of Ai Weiwei prints and editions. Ensure you are working with an expert on the artist who has access to relevant data for assessing authenticity.

For more tips and advice on investing in art, read our full updated guide here.

A portrait of artist Ai Weiwei from a side profile, made out of legoImage © Phillips / Self-Portrait in Lego © Ai Weiwei 2017

What are some of Ai Weiwei’s Most Popular Prints?

Ai Weiwei is known for his diverse body of work, which includes sculptures, installations, films, and prints. Fortunately, his prints and editions are on the more accessible end of the investment, meaning a slice of the artist’s oeuvre doesn’t have to cost thousands. Here are some of his most popular prints:

Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995)

Largely seen as one of the artist’s most iconic photographic works, Ai’s trio of images challenges notions of China’s cultural heritage and the relationship between the past and the present. It was released in an edition of eight in 1995, meaning it is an extremely rare and sought-after print.

Self-Portrait in Lego (2017)

First exhibited at the Hirshorn, Self-Portrait In Lego formed part of the monumental installation Trace, a collection of portraits of individuals from around the world considered to be activists, prisoners of conscience, and free speech advocates. Each of these 176 portraits was made from thousands of plastic LEGO® bricks, assembled by hand and exhibited on the floor of the museum. Published to coincide with the exhibition, the work was released in an edition of 50 in 2017. It comes hand-mounted in LEGO® with the original photograph that the work is based on.

A series of eight red and white papercut prints comprising dense sketches and geometric shapesImage © Phillips / The Papercut Portfolio © Ai Weiwei 2019

The Papercut Portfolio (2019): Comprised of eight papercuts on wove paper, The Papercut Portfolio was released as an edition of 250 in 2019. The use of papercutting is a nod to both ancient Chinese art and modern practices, where intricately cut papers are used for festivals, religious ceremonies and everyday decoration. It incorporates many aspects of his life and work, bringing the gap between contemporary and traditional culture. Motifs that reference his Chinese roots are interspersed with scenes reminiscent of his time in New York, and his politics are captured in depictions of his activism and work. It offers a visually stimulating, personal memoir in a unique format.

A cream 'Wanted' sign on a green background with two small images of a male side profile and male front profile and '$2,000 reward' in red and writing written beneath the imagesImage © Phillips / Deluxe Wanted Poster © Ai Weiwei 2014

Where Can I Buy an Ai Weiwei Print in 2023?

Ai Weiwei's prints and editions can be found at various art marketplaces and auction houses. As a popular and in-demand artist, Ai’s works tend to sell out quickly. Therefore, it's essential to have your finger on the pulse for new releases and marketplaces if you’re looking for his prints and editions.

One of the best places to start is with established art galleries that specialise in contemporary and Chinese art. These galleries often have a direct relationship with Ai Weiwei or his estate and can provide you with the most up-to-date information on available works. Some notable galleries that have exhibited Ai Weiwei's work include Lisson Gallery and Galerie Urs Meile.

Another option is to attend art fairs, where multiple galleries gather to showcase their collections. These fairs offer a hub of creative expression and give buyers a chance to see a wide range of artworks in one location. This is a great way to discover new works by Ai Weiwei. Some well-known art fairs include Art Basel, Frieze, and The Armory Show.

A grid comprising small portraits and drawings of urban scenesImage © Sotheby’s / Haircut © Ai Weiwei 2019

Online marketplaces are also becoming increasingly popular for buying and selling Ai Weiwei's prints and editions. Platforms like MyArtBroker allow you to browse a vast selection of artworks and connect directly with sellers. These online marketplaces often provide detailed information on each artwork, including its history, condition, and authenticity. With MyArtBroker, you’ll also get free access to data-backed market advisory that will help guide your investment.

Last but not least, art auctions are a traditional but fruitful avenue for acquiring Ai Weiwei's prints and editions. Major auction houses such as Christie's, Sotheby's, and Phillips regularly offer works by the artist. However, it's important to note that auctions can be competitive, and prices may be higher due to the bidding process.

Regardless of where you choose to buy Ai Weiwei's prints and editions, it's essential to do your research and work with reputable sellers. Make sure to ask questions about the artwork's history, provenance, and condition before making a purchase.

Magazine cover depicting the globe on a red and white background, with text reading ‘THE WORLD ACCORDING TO CHINA’.Image © Time / Cover Art by Ai Weiwei for Time © Time 2013

Why Use MyArtBroker to Find Your First Ai Weiwei?

If you're interested in investing in Ai Weiwei prints and editions, MyArtBroker is the ideal place to start. MyArtBroker has a proven track record of connecting collectors and investors with the right artworks at a fair price.

A Dedicated Broker

MyArtBroker assigns a dedicated broker to each client, who provides personalised support throughout the entire buying and selling process. Your broker will be an expert in contemporary art and specifically in the prints and editions market. They will be able to answer any questions you may have about Ai Weiwei prints, provide expert advice, and help you make informed decisions about your investment.

Our Network

MyArtBroker has a vast private network of collectors that we work with. With us, you get access to our Trading Floor, which delivers accurate data on the activity of buyers and sellers in our prints marketplace. Live demand and supply is posted directly to the platform, meaning you’ll be first in the know if an Ai Weiwei becomes available. It also means that MyArtBroker can provide you with accurate information about your wanted print based on our industry-leading market advisory, ensuring you get a fair price and a sound investment.

Collecting Ai Weiwei Prints with MyArtBroker

Aside from Trading Floor, MyArtBroker has another free tool that can help you build a successful Ai Weiwei print collection: MyPortfolio. As the only dedicated print market index in the world, it is powered by repeat sales regression technology that allows investors to buy, sell, and track demand and supply in real time. MyPortfolio processes international art auction results as they come in, and also analyses thousands of public and private market histories.

By using MyArtBroker's tools and expertise, you can invest in Ai Weiwei prints with confidence, knowing that you are making informed decisions based on accurate information. With a dedicated broker by your side, you can invest with confidence and gain a piece of an oeuvre that has oriented the course of modern art and activism.