Upon his return to Beijing in 1978, Ai Weiwei became an early member of “The Stars” (Xing Xing), one of the first avant-garde art groups in modern China. In 1981, he moved to New York City, where he gained attention for an art based on transforming everyday objects into conceptual works. Returning to China in 1993, Ai Weiwei co-founded the Chinese Art Archive & Warehouse (CAAW), a nonprofit loft-gallery in Beijing where he still serves as director.
A highly regarded artist in China and abroad, he has exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. He worked closely with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron to design the 2008 National Olympic Stadium (“the Bird’s Nest”). Most recently, Ai Weiwei made headlines with Sunflower Seeds, an exhibition in the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern Museum, which consisted of 100 million hand-painted porcelain seeds.
Ai Weiwei received the Chinese Contemporary Art Award for Lifetime Contribution in 2008. Despite his success as an artist at home, however, Ai Weiwei has frequently found himself at odds with the Chinese government in his stance on free speech and human rights. He often leverages his work and acclaim to make explicit his opinions as one of China’s most outspoken cultural critics.
With his finger on the pulse of modern China and unafraid to spotlight injustices in Chinese society, Ai Weiwei maintains a connection with a devoted Chinese following through his blog and Twitter account. He has risked his life leading a number of high-profile protests to defend his beliefs which have caused him to be repeatedly, and sometimes severely, punished by Chinese authorities while drawing attention and support from all over the world.