Ai Weiwei: Defend the Future brings together a selection of works from the oeuvre of Ai Weiwei (1957‒), ranging from painting and photography to film, installation, architecture, public art, curated works, and publications. Born in Beijing, China, in 1957, his parents were the poets Ai Qing, and Gao Ying, and he grew up in Xinjiang, in the western part of China, as his father was forced by the Chinese communist government to work in political exile since the Anti-Rightist Campaign. He came back to Beijing in 1975, after his father was fully rehabilitated. He enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy, majoring in animation, in 1978. It was here that he became actively involved in the "Stars" group, one of China's earliest avant-garde art collectives, in 1979. He then went to New York in 1981, where he encountered works by Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns, among others, leading him to establish his own perspective on contemporary art. After returning to Beijing in 1993, he initiated formation of the Caochangdi Art District in the eastern part of Beijing and served as an artistic consultant for the Beijing National Stadium (often called the "Bird’s Nest"), designed by the Herzog & de Meuron architecture firm, in 2007 prior to the Beijing Olympics.
As poorly-constructed school buildings collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, Ai recruited volunteers online and formed a Citizens' Investigation team to document the total number of casualties and the names of the victims. Since he was forced to leave China and moved to Europe in 2015, he has created wide-ranging works on the theme of "refugees". He is uniquely positioned as a pioneering artist who is able to interact with people by fully utilizing media of the digital era - blogs, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. In this exhibition, a total of 126 works of Ai are presented: his photography series Study of Perspective 1995-2011 (2014); pottery works such as Colored Vases (2015), Neolithic Vase with Coca-Cola Logo (2015), and Porcelain Pillar with Refugee Motif (2017); Murano glass works, including Study of Perspective in Glass (2018) and Black Chandelier (2017-2021); large installations, including Life Vest Snake (2019), Laundromat (2016), and Tree (2015); and 11 video works, including Vivos (2020) and Rohingya (2021).
The Korean title of the "Defend the Future" exhibition, which is literally translated as "The Future of Humans" in Korean, is a combination of "humans," which tops Ai Weiwei's artistic agenda, and "future," one of his artistic pursuits. Ai's life and art express that we, as dignified humans, must be able to live a life in which we can talk freely with one another, express joy and anger, and share what we have with future generations. In Quotes (2019), a collection of major comments made throughout human history on the theme of human rights, Socrates stated, "I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world." Through such works, Ai has connected magnificent cultural heritages of the past, such as those from Jingdezhen ceramic village and Murano Island, Venice, to the present times and brought public attention to the site of the Sichuan earthquake and Idomeni Island in Greece, thereby spreading empathy and solidarity around the world. This exhibition will hopefully take viewers on a journey into the time and space of Ai's world.