The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has a major exhibition at The Royal Academy (we’re going to see it tomorrow and will report back). He’s also making headlines for a public spat with Danish toy manufacturer Lego. Here’s a short précis of his biography.
Born: 1957 in Beijing, where he lives and works.
His father: Was the famous Chinese poet Ai Qing, who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement. In 1958, the family was sent to a labour camp, when Ai was a baby.
Studied: He attended Beijing Film Academy and later, on moving to New York (1981-1993), continued his studies at the Parsons School of Design.
Political activist: He has been openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights. He investigated government corruption and cover-ups, such as the scandal following the collapse of so-called “tofu-dreg schools” in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
Imprisoned: In 2011, he was arrested at Beijing Airport and held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to allegations of “economic crimes”.
Influences: He cites Marcel Duchamp as ‘the most, if not the only, influential figure’ in his art practice. He often employs traditional materials and interventions with historic objects throughout his work from Neolithic vases (5000-3000 BCE) to Qing dynasty (1644-1911) architectural components and furniture. He transforms materials and found objects – in wood, porcelain, marble or jade, testing the skills of the craftsmen working to his brief in the process.
Major solo exhibitions: Royal Academy (2015), Martin Gropius Bau (2014), Indianapolis Museum of Art (2013), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. (2012), Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan (2011), Tate Modern, London (2010) and Haus der Kunst, Munich (2009).
Architectural collaborations 2008 Beijing Olympic Stadium, nicknamed the ‘Birds Nest’, with Herzog & de Meuron. 2012 Serpentine Pavilion.
Awards and honours: Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent from the Human Rights Foundation, New York in 2012. Honorary Academician at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 2011. Most recently, he was awarded the Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International in 2015.