Ai Weiwei, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995, courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio ©




‘’In Search of Humanity’’ will be Ai Weiwei’s most comprehensive retrospective to date to open this autumn. The activist, and critic of authoritarian power systems Ai Weiwei exhibition will include cultural ready-mades, paintings, works made from LEGO bricks, sculptures, installations, photography, and video works, an overview of Ai Weiwei’s over-four-decades-spanning career and feature key works from all his different creative periods.

« Everything is art. Everything is politics. » – Ai Weiwei

LEGO artworks and porcelain sunflower seeds

The exhibition shows 120 of his artworks, including Forever Bicycles (2003), a large bicycle sculpture made from bicycles without handlebars to emphasize that you are not in control, in reference to the dominant Chinese regime. With Sunflower Seeds (2010), a floor with 100 thousand hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds, Ai Weiwei challenges the ‘Made in China’ mantra that China is known for. Also shown are the iconic photographs in which he raises his middle finger to famous international monuments as symbols of power. With little LEGO bricks Ai Weiwei realizes disturbing images, for instance of a drowned refugee in After the Death of Marat (2018), or of his arrest in Illumination (2019), thereby robbing this popular toy of its childlike innocence. 

Step into the life of the world-famous Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei, such as his childhood spent in exile as a result of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, the suppressed students’ protests in Beijing, and his personal incarceration in 2011. His artworks show his quest for humanity and a better world. The artist believes we all have a responsibility to act against threats to freedom of speech and violations of human rights – from the Chinese government’s intimidation techniques and the call for freedom, to warfare and the global refugee crisis.

Four decades worth of artworks

‘’In Search of Humanity’’ goes through all periods in Ai Weiwei’s wide-ranging career and offers insight into the aesthetic principles of his artistry: his childhood memories from China… a shovel in a fur coat, for instance, or two shoes that appear to be embracing each other like mating dung beetles. Ai Weiwei regularly shows the remains of destruction in his work. The artist refers to the Chinese craft that is being lost, but the works also reflect his life as a dissident and criticism of the Chinese government.

Discover Julian Assange’s treadmill that now symbolizes his hopeless situation, or a toy panda stuffed with classified NSA documents. The artist wants to prevent us from forgetting about these important problems as we have often gotten use to their representation in the media. Ai for instance manages to direct our attention to the catastrophe of migration with an artwork featuring lifejackets that were left on the beach by refugees. 


ART to think.

Ai Weiwei’s metamorphoses and transformations appear to be useless monuments to things. The resulting confusion gives us valuable food for thought, especially at a time like today when democracy is in under attack. 

This exhibition shows how powerful art can be. 

« Can a civilization that is built on the misfortune of others carry on forever?« – Ai Weiwei

In Search of Humanity is realized in collaboration with Studio Ai Weiwei, Albertina Modern in Vienna, and guest curator Dieter Buchhart. 

By: Mário de Castro

Portrait of Ai Weiwei , 2012, photo by Gao Yuan, courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio ©


Ai Weiwei, Neolithic Vase with Coca-Cola Logo, 1994, photo Albertina, Vienna, Lisa Rasti and Reiner courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio ©


Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals, 2010; Photo Albertina, Vienna, Lisa Rasti and Reiner Riedler, Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio ©


Ai Weiwei, Forever Bicycles, 2003, photo Albertina, Vienna, Lisa Rasti and Reiner Riedler, courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio ©


Ai Weiwei, Crystal Ball, 2017, courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio