Ai Weiwei is the son of writer Gao Ying and poet Ai Qing. Trained in the West, Ai is intimately familiar with Conceptual and Minimalist traditions and combines them in his work. In his refusal to pleasure the eye, he is the opposite of Jeff Koons, his equally famous contemporary. In their visual austerity, Ai’s pieces are closely aligned with the work of other global activists, like David Hammons, Robert Gober, and Doris Salcedo, whose large-scale projects call attention to weighty social issues, breaking free from the confines of the gallery and the museum, and bridging the gap between the visual and the social.
His recent work explores national borders and other social issues of migration and millennium. His view on how identity and how geography defines humanity is captured in his reflection on the relationship between China and US thus, “China and the U.S. are two societies with very different attitudes towards opinion and criticism.”
Ai’s dramatic actions highlight the widening gap between the ideal and the real in Chinese society. He is also one of the earliest conceptual artists to use social media – Instagram and Twitter, in particular – as one of his primary media.
Ai was a professional blackjack player for a brief period early in life. His work is about risk (personal, professional, and political). It is also about testing the limits of freedom. His work is designed to remind us that risk-taking is an essential form of exercise in a free society.