BERLIN – Perhaps one of the most renowned Chinese artists in modern times, Ai Weiwei spent nearly a decade living and studying in the US. Though Weiwei was never forced into exile by the Chinese government, as his father was during his childhood and as many of his contemporaries would be during his lifetime, he was critical of the restrictions placed on artistic expression by the communist regime during the Cultural Revolution.
This exhibition, taking place at the Martin Gropius Bau near Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, chronicles Weiwei’s life in his Brooklyn and Manhattan apartments, time spent with other Chinese nationals living in the US due to self-imposed or state-mandated exile, and countless vignettes of riotous youth, demonstrations, homelessness, and poverty in New York. The photographs not only force one to reckon with the juxtaposition of privilege and poverty in New York, they are more compelling because of the turbulent events happening in other parts of the world, specifically in China and elsewhere “behind the Iron Curtain” during this period. Weiwei remained in the US so as to avoid restrictions on artistic license, and as he was capturing the not-so-glamorous aspects of life in New York (drugs, junkies, birth of the AIDS epidemic, and youthful rebellion), societies halfway across the world were also undergoing change, spurred by fissures in foundations of communist dogma.