Ai Weiwei: Trace in Chicago
Trace is a monumental work comprising nearly one million individual LEGO® bricks arranged to depict women and men from around the world whom the artist considers activists, prisoners of conscience, or advocates of free speech. The work was commissioned in 2014 by the nonprofit FOR-SITE Foundation, in partnership with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, for an exhibition at Alcatraz, the former penitentiary in San Francisco, where it drew nearly one million visitors. The site-specific installation will be on view at 659 W. Wrightwood Ave., in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood from May 9th to June 30th, 2018. The creation of Trace was shaped by Ai’s own experiences as a prisoner of the Chinese government. Having previously been brutalized and censored for his activism and outspoken criticism of totalitarian regimes, in 2011 he was incarcerated, interrogated, beaten and kept under surveillance in Beijing for 81 days and then prohibited from traveling abroad until 2015. He conceived and planned Trace during this period.
Ai is recognized around the world as a creative force and cultural commentator, and for nearly three decades he has redefined the role of both artist and activist. Born in Beijing in 1957 to renowned poet and intellectual Ai Qing, Ai Weiwei grew up in the Xinjiang region, where his father was exiled in 1959 by the Communist regime. He returned to China in 1993 and helped establish the Beijing East Village contemporary art scene, named for the New York neighborhood in which he had lived. In 2011, after a period of escalating conflict with Chinese authorities over his artwork, Ai was arrested and detained in secret for nearly three months before his release. His passport was confiscated, and he was unable to leave China until it was returned to him in 2015. His conscience-driven body of work ventures far beyond the art world and into the realm of modern politics, addressing the movement of refugees, government conflicts, incarceration, and perceived injustice. Despite, or perhaps because of, his unorthodox approach to art making and his expanding social and media savvy, he is arguably among the world’s best-known living artists.
Ai’s recent major solo exhibitions include those held at the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2009); Tate Modern, London (2010); the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2012); the Royal Academy of Arts, London (2015); the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy (2016), and those of Trace at Alcatraz and the Hirshhorn. He has received numerous awards and honors, notably Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award (2015) and the Wall Street Journal’s Innovator of the year (2016).