Asia Society Museum presents an exhibition of 227 photographs taken by Ai Weiwei, capturing his unique perspective of the history, culture, and atmosphere of New York in the 1980s. The exhibition marks the first time Ai Weiwei’s New York Photographs series has been shown outside of China.
“The New York I knew no longer exists….” – Ai Weiwei, 2008
Ai Weiwei is one of the most provocative artists living in China. Some of his most iconic works are photographs. His decade-long engagement with photography in New York gave him a thorough understanding of the medium and became an important springboard for his succeeding photographic works such as the Study in Perspective Series (1999–2003), which depict the artist’s middle finger before well-known sites in Paris, Berlin, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Washington, D.C.
However, before Ai Weiwei became internationally recognized as an artist and activist, he lived in a tiny apartment in New York’s East Village. There, he was a prominent member of a community of expatriate Chinese artists and intellectuals. Throughout those years, from 1983 to 1993, the artist used his camera to document his life, work, surroundings, and the atmosphere around him.
The photographs document the beginnings of the artist’s conceptual art practice as well as a distinct era in New York. They depict East Village poetry readings, riots in Tompkins Square Park, drag queens at Wigstock, and well-known artists and intellectuals from China.
The exhibition, comprising 227 photographs from Ai’s archive of 10,000, is conceived as a single unified installation that reveals the artist’s personal experiences, thoughts, and attitudes at the time.
AI WEIWEI: THE NEW YORK PHOTOGRAPHS 1983–1993 is open until August 14th, 2011 at Asia Society Museum, 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York City.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 316-page catalogue with plates of all the photographs, along with essays and interviews.