Ai Weiwei: Trace at Hirshhorn
One of China’s most provocative living artists, Ai Weiwei (b. Beijing, 1957) has spent nearly four decades exploring the relationships between art, society, and individual experience. His work, as prolific as it is eclectic, encompasses a wide range of media, including sculpture, installation, photography, film, painting, and architecture. Ai Weiwei has sought to incite change through his art since the late 1970s, and as his work has developed, he has become increasingly committed to his guiding principle of promoting human rights and freedom of expression for all.
A collaborative artist project, Ai Weiwei: Trace at Hirshhorn features the East Coast debut of the monumental installation Trace, which portrays individuals from around the world whom the artist and various human rights groups consider to be activists, prisoners of conscience, and advocates of free speech. Each of these 176 portraits comprises thousands of plastic LEGO® bricks, assembled by hand and laid out on the floor. The work foregrounds Ai Weiwei’s own experiences of incarceration, interrogation, and surveillance. In 2011, he was detained by the Chinese government for eighty-one days and then prohibited from traveling abroad until 2015. In 2012, the Hirshhorn opened Ai’s first major US retrospective exhibition, Ai Weiwei: According to What?, which he was unable to attend.