About Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995/2009. Image courtesy of the artist.

Ai is known as one of China’s most provocative and vocal artists; his focus on human rights and social change eventually led to his detainment by Chinese authorities for nearly three months in 2011. The Chinese government later supplied charges of tax evasion against Ai, which he vehemently denies. Since his detainment, Ai has been kept under constant surveillance by the government—a circumstance that has led him to create a series of new works, including a marble surveillance camera, that will be part of this exhibition.

Biographical Timeline

  • 1957 - Ai Weiwei is born in Beijing, China. His parents are well-known poet Ai Qing and writer Gao Ying.
  • 1958–1975 - Ai’s family are exiled to a labor camp in northwest China during the Cultural Revolution.
  • 1976–1981 - Ai returns to Beijing with his family and attends Beijing Film Academy.
  • 1981–1993 - Ai moves to the US. He attends Parsons School of Design and lives mostly in the East Village of New York City.
  • 1993 - Ai returns to Beijing to care for his ailing father.
  • 1997 - Ai helps to establish the China Art Archives and Warehouse.
  • 1998 - Ai designs his own studio and residence in Beijing, his first architectural project.
  • 2003 - Ai serves as artistic consultant for the design of the “Bird’s Nest” Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
  • 2006 - Ai begins blogging, publishing a steady stream of social commentary and political critique.
  • 2008 - Ai launches a citizens’ investigation to collect the names of the more than 5,000 school children killed in the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
  • May 2009 - Ai’s blog is shut down by Chinese authorities, and he begins communicating via Twitter.
  • July 2009 - Ai has an encounter with police in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, during which he is beaten on the head. He later finds out he has suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that requires emergency surgery.
  • October 2010 - Ai exhibits his work Sunflower Seeds at London’s Tate Modern gallery.
  • November 2010 - Ai is placed under house arrest by the Chinese police.
  • January 2011 - The Chinese government orders the demolition of Ai’s newly constructed studio in Shanghai.
  • April 2011 - Ai is stopped at the Beijing airport and detained for “economic crimes.”
  • June 2011 - After 81 days in a secret detention center on the outskirts of Beijing, Ai is released.
  • June 2012 - Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a documentary about Ai’s artistic practices and social activism, opens in theaters to international acclaim.
  • April 5, 2013 - A major retrospective of Ai Weiwei’s work, Ai Weiwei: According to What?, opens at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.