Politically frank and aesthetically poignant, Ai Weiwei's works deal with Chinese history and contemporary society. His formal practice changes in form and the materials deployed according to the diversity of activities his art embraces. Influenced from his early career by Dada, Duchamp, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol, Ai Weiwei's works have been based on a conceptual approach - on installation and sculpture.
The socio-political and economic climate of contemporary China most often serves as starting point for Ai Weiwei's art, and he uses local materials and resources like reclaimed wood from traditional Chinese houses and temples; Chinese antiquities like Neolithic vases and Qing Dynasty furniture; porcelain from the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen, freshwater pearls, bricks, tea, marble, stone, bamboo etc. There is though nothing "Chinoise" about his works; rather his international formal approach often makes use of metaphoric references, humour, puns, and political irony, that redefines and reconsiders the meaning of the traditional into something new - from traditional antique into seductive and thought provoking contemporary art, from convention to transgression.
For Ai Weiwei though - the fundamental force for change is the individual experience, and the notion that through individual action, change is possible.
He believes all activities or artwork should be social - and political. He has often been involved in collaborations, among others in his large scale architectural projects. For him it is important to engage in debates and to exchange experiences.
In the 1970's and 1980's Ai Weiwei was a protagonist in a dynamic avant-garde movement in China where a lot of activity saw its light on the Chinese art scene.
Ai Weiwei's career has steadily been gaining momentum in the past decades, not least due to his controversial exhibition "Fuck Off" in connection to the Shanghai Bienniale in 2000, his participation at Documenta 2007, and his design of "Bird's Nest", the Olympic Stadium in Beijing, built in collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron.
In 2010 Art Review listed Ai Weiwei as no. 1 on their Top 100 of most powerful people in the art world. There is no doubt that his 81 days of detention by the Chinese authorities in the spring of 2011 has put him in an even more important position - both inside and outside the art world - and inside and outside of China.
Ai Weiwei has in the past years provoked Chinese authorities in his out spoken critique of the lack of democracy, freedom of speech in China. Today Ai Weiwei's life is restricted, he is not allowed to leave his house without telling the police about his whereabouts - he is under surveillance and is not allowed to travel or speak with the international press.