Contemporary art as social commentary is certainly not a new concept, but Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei seems to elevate this particular niche of contemporary art into a different level. Ai has been critically acclaimed worldwide for his work, but in recent years has become a force unto himself – making him a phenomenal figure in the art world, and a mover and shaker of social issues, particularly in his native China.
Some consider him to be one of the most famous living artists today, particularly due to his visiblity in the media. This is part of stand on social issues in his homeland, particularly in regards to one’s freedom of creative expression. Much of his work has been defied by the Chinese government, leading to an imprisonment in 2011. He was also detained in China right before the exhibition opening and was not able to attend. He has become the voice of a new generation of Chinese creatives yearning for the right to express themselves.
The show currently on view at the Hirshhorn museum and sculpture garden in Washington, DC, is the first American exhibition showcasing Ai’s work, which includes multiple installation pieces, a photographic survey of his artistic journey thus far, as well as new work commisioned by the museum for the show and an installation in the museum’s courtyard.
The beauty of Ai’s work lies not in their aesthetics but in the stories they tell, yet they grab you from the beginning with their intense visual impact and impressive scale. The vastness of the scope of his work, coupled with the underlying stories, create a unique balance between content and form, while continuing to ask questions about the role of art in contemporary society (partcularly China).
Throuh his art and work, Ai Wei Wei brings to life realities that might slip us by, perhaps because we are removed from the situation in China and the other side of the world. In a way he is admirable because regardless of his constant criticism of his homeland and its government, there is a hint of patriotism and love of culture present in everything he does. Perhaps one day, others in China will finally grasp the importance of his message, and maybe we can also take something from him – and be able to make the most of our creativity and passion as he continues to do.
All images original