Famed Chinese dissident/artist Ai Weiwei at AGO

Andrea-Jo Wilson —

One of the world’s most provocative contemporary artists, Ai Weiwei, will join Art Gallery of Ontario visitors for a live video chat with the AGO’s director and CEO, Matthew Teitelbaum, during the Gallery’s popular First Thursdays art party on Sept. 5. The event’s programming will delve into the imagination and experience of Ai, who is under constant surveillance at his home in Beijing and has been unable to leave China since the government confiscated his passport in 2011.

“This live chat is an incredible and rare opportunity to hear Ai Weiwei directly share his insights into his art, activism and passion for China and its changing landscape,” said Matthew Teitelbaum. “As we open this major exhibition, Weiwei’s physical absence is deeply felt, but technology allows him to defy borders so we can welcome him personally to Toronto.”

Tickets for AGO First Thursdays are available here  and a special ticket is required to experience the live video chat. Quantities are limited and are expected to sell out quickly.

Ai Weiwei: According to What?

The live chat with Ai is one of many initiatives planned for the upcoming AGO exhibition, Ai Weiwei: According to What? Chronicling Ai’s work from the mid-1990s to the present, the exhibition blends art history, activism and traditional Chinese materials and symbols to create a compelling vision of the artist’s everyday reality and his ongoing fight for freedom of expression in the face of Chinese government censorship. Featuring more than 40 large scale works of art including sculptures, photographs and video and audio installations, Ai Weiwei: According to What? is on display from Aug. 17 to Oct. 27, 2013 and the AGO is the only Canadian stop on a North American tour.

Ai Weiwei: According to What? includes many large-scale and detailed artworks, including:

Straight (2008-12), which contains 38 tons of reinforced steel rebar recovered from post-earthquake fissures and arranged specifically for the exhibition;

Château Lafite (1988), a sculpture comprised of a wine bottle and peasant shoes that pays homage to the artwork of Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns;

Grapes (2010), showcasing a number of wooden stools from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) that artisans have rejoined into a cluster;

New York Photographs (1983-93), a selection of 32 black-and-white documentary photos that Ai took during his time studying art in New York City;

Surveillance Camera (2010), a piece of technology carefully replicated in marble, recreating the device that the Chinese government uses to keep an eye on the artist in his home; and

He Xie (2010), an installation of more than 3,000 porcelain river crabs. The term “he xie” refers to the word “harmonious,” which is part of the Chinese Communist Party’s slogan and is now internet slang for official online censorship.


Timed-entry tickets for Ai Weiwei: According to What? are available in person, by phone at (416) 979-6655 or online by visiting ago.net/aiweiwei and cost $16.50 for youth ages 17 and under, $21.50 for seniors and $25 for adults. Admission is FREE for AGO members and for children ages five and under.

Ticket buyers can upgrade to a combo package that includes early access to the first block of timed-entry tickets for David Bowie is, which starts its world tour at the AGO on Sept. 25, 2013. Combo tickets are $31.50 for youth ages 17 and under, $36.50 for seniors and $40 for adults. Single tickets for David Bowie is go on sale on Aug. 23, but early purchase via the combo package is encouraged as quantities are limited for high-demand time slots. Single tickets for David Bowie is are available now for AGO members. For more information on becoming an AGO member, please visit ago.net/membership.


In response to the 2008 earthquake tragedy in China’s Sichuan province, Ai Weiwei began a commemorative design project called aiflowers to memorialize the thousands of children who perished in the disaster. In celebration of Ai Weiwei: According to What?, Ai has designed several exclusive aiflower items for shopAGO—marking the first retail partnership between a hosting gallery and Ai’s studio—including a collection comprising a postcard, commemorative notebook, magnet, pencil, pin and T-shirts.

In another Canadian first, shopAGO will also carry items from Chinese luxury clothing line Shanghai Tang. Since its inception in 1994, Shanghai Tang has advanced the expression of modern Chinese chic by fusing current design concepts with innovative Chinese-inspired elements. Offering ready-to-wear for men, women and children, as well as accessories and housewares, the label supports an international network of 30 boutiques in the world’s most prestigious shopping districts. shopAGO is exclusively launching a collection of housewares and accessories in Canada to coincide with the opening of Ai Weiwei: According to What? For more information, please visit www.shanghaitang.com. Gift registry is available for art lovers who would love a piece of Ai’s world. Visit shopAGO online at www.shop2.ago.net/store or call 416-979-6610 for more information.

Talks & Events

The AGO is undertaking several initiatives this summer to draw attention to Ai’s ongoing campaign for greater freedom of expression within China. Programming highlights for Ai Weiwei: According to What? include a series of thought-provoking discussions, multimedia events and a special screening of the documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. For more details about special programming in support of the exhibition visit ago.net/aiweiwei-events/.

Say Their Names

Working with Toronto artist Gein Wong, the Gallery invites GTA residents who speak a Chinese dialect to participate in Say Their Names, Remember, a live reading of the names of the thousands of schoolchildren who perished in the devastating earthquake in China’s Sichuan province on May 12, 2008. This initiative was inspired by Ai’s powerful artworks Remembrance (2010) and Names of the Student Earthquake Victims Found by the Citizens’ Investigation (2008-11). Those who wish to participate in a reading of the names on Aug. 18, 2013, can register here.

Toronto Celebrates Ai Weiwei

Granovsky Gluskin Hall, the pre-gate entrance to the AGO, is housing a special sculpture of Ai Weiwei by Toronto-based artist Sean Martindale entitled Love The Future / Free Ai Weiwei. Created during Ai’s detention by Chinese authorities in spring 2011, the eight-foot-tall statue is made entirely out of cardboard Martindale collected in and around Toronto’s central Chinatown neighbourhood. This show of solidarity is intended to raise awareness and further dialogue about the internationally acclaimed artist’s situation, as well as those of others disappeared due to political and artistic expression. The sculpture will be on display for the duration of Ai Weiwei: According to What?

As part of the City of Toronto’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, a new edition of Ai’s Forever Bicycles (2013) sculpture will be installed at Nathan Phillips Square as part of this year’s celebrations on Oct. 5, 2013. This complex and abstract sculpture, consisting of 3,144 bicycles, is curated by Ami Barak. Further details will be announced by the City of Toronto later this summer.



Ai Weiwei (b. 1957, Beijing) has been the recipient of numerous grants, honours and awards, most recently in 2012 the inaugural Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent of the Human Rights Foundation; the International Center of Photography Cornell Capa Award; an honourary fellowship from the Royal Institute of British Architects; an Honourary Degree from Pratt Institute; and a foreign membership in the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts. Other honours over the past five years include a Chinese Contemporary Art Award for Lifetime Achievement; an International Architecture Award for Tsai Residence; Das Glas der Vernunft (The Prism of Reason), Kassel Citizen Award; The Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation Award for Courage; the Skowhegan Medal for Multidisciplinary Art; Wallpaper Design Award Best New Private House for Tsai Residence; and a Wall Street Journal Innovators Award (Art). Ai Weiwei is consistently included in top artist and human rights lists, including GQ Men of the Year in 2009 (Germany); the Art Review Power 100, rank 43 in 2009; the Art Review Power 100, rank 13 in 2010; the Art Review Power 100, rank one in 2011; Foreign Policy Top Global Thinkers of 2011, rank 18; and runner up in Time’s Person of the Year in 2011. Ai Weiwei helped establish Beijing East Village in 1993, co-founded the China Art Archives & Warehouse in 1997 and founded the architecture studio FAKE Design in 2003. He studied at the Beijing Film Academy, Parsons School of Design and Art Students League of New York; upon returning to China he collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Ai Weiwei: According to What? was organized by the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo and the Art Gallery of Ontario. It is curated by the Mori Art Museum’s chief curator, Mami Kataoka.

Leadership gifts in support of the exhibition from Emmanuelle Gattuso and Allan Slaight and the Hal Jackman Foundation. Additional generous support from The Delaney Family Foundation; Donner Canadian Foundation; Partners in Art; and Francis and Eleanor Shen.

Assistance from media partner The Globe and Mail. Contemporary programming at the AGO is generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.

The AGO’s installation of Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads in the City of Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square was made possible in part by AW Asia, New York.