2014 brings forth two reminders that Ai Weiwei hasn’t disappeared… Yet. Working in collaboration with esteemed publishers, TASCHEN, Weiwei has put together the first comprehensive monograph of his life’s work. The release is a testament to Ai’s legacy as an artist and activist. When you’re done browsing the book, you can see his work in person at the Brooklyn Museum, which is host to Ai Weiwei: According to What? that marks the last leg of the artist’s wildly successful show.
TASCHEN worked in close collaboration with Ai in his studio outside Beijing, where he’s currently under house arrest. Not that that means much to Weiwei, the artist has become one of the world’s leading conceptual artists thanks to his risky social media presence, political activism, and free expression in his native China. His Monograph seems to follow suite, pushing the boundaries of the format with a series of unique features. For one, it’s being released in two editions: the Art Edition (of which has already sold out) and the normal release, available as of June 6th. The art edition is numbered 1-100 and comes with a specially designed marble bookstand, executed in Ai’s workshop.
The remaining volumes, numbered 101-1000, come signed by the artist and wrapped in silk scarf, reproducing the detail of his work Straight (where he straightened 150 tons of steel bar, reclaimed from the Sichuan quake, of which Ai is famous for getting politically involved with). Each book comes with traditional Chinese paper cut chapter openers, designed by Wiewei, previously unseen images from his archive, as well as statements on his work from exclusive interviews. The book also features an assortment of essays by Ai’s associates and critics.
While Ai played a large role in the creation of his monograph, credit should also be shone on the book’s editor, Hans Werner Holzwarth. A book designer who has worked on many of TASCHEN’s art and photography publications, Holzwarth is responsible for elevating the book to another level, many of his works often pieces to admire in their own right.
Since April, Weiwei’s travelling exhibit, According to What? has been on display at the Brooklyn Museum, and will remain there till August. Having previously been on show in Miami, Washington, Toronto, and Indianapolis, it makes its final stretch in NYC. It’s organized by the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo and curated by Mami Kataoka, Mori Art’s Chief Curator who worked together with Sharon Matt Atkins, Managing Curator of Exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, to present the works in New York. Ai, during the museum’s press event, stated that “this is the last stop, and the stop I emotionally care the most.” As the monograph points out, Ai spent the beginning of his career in New York.
The Brooklyn Museum’s offering features work that Ai created specifically for the show. One of these, titled Ye Haiyan’s Belongings, features photographs and the belongings of a feminist activist harassed by China’s secret police. This accompanies works like S.C.A.R.E.D., an installation of six dioramas in iron boxes stationed at the museum’s entrance.
The work provides a glimpse into Ai’s 81-day detainment within a Chinese prison cell, where he served time for supposed tax evasion in 2011. As evident, Ai’s works don’t stray far from his activism and personal beliefs, he’s never shy from pushing boundaries and the buttons of the country he’s currently forced within.
Accompanying the new works are over 20 years worth of Ai favorites—vases, stools, crabs, etc. Like the monograph, the exhibit provides a comprehensive look at where Ai Weiwei is from, where he is now, and perhaps a glimpse into where he is going. From developing artist to international presence, Weiwei has made his mark and (hopefully) isn’t going anywhere but in the spotlight for years to come.
You can read more about Ai Weiwei and the newly released monograph in the TASCHEN On Demand zine.