Ai Weiwei: Trace

May 15–August 1, 2021
Member Preview Days: Tuesday–Sunday, May 1–14 (details TBA)

About the Exhibition

Ai Weiwei: Trace honors activists, prisoners of conscience, and advocates of free speech. Created in 2014, while Ai Weiwei was under house arrest, the exhibition resonates with the artist’s own experiences of incarceration and life under government surveillance.

Like Ai Weiwei, the individuals represented in Trace have been detained, exiled, or have sought political asylum because of their actions, beliefs, or affiliations. The Skirball presents three of the original installation’s six floor panels, featuring eighty-three LEGO® portraits of individuals from more than twenty-five countries.

To complement this monumental display, Ai Weiwei has created a striking 360-degree wallpaper installation entitled The Animal That Looks Like a Llama but Is Really an Alpaca. At first glance, the pattern looks merely decorative, but it is riddled with hidden iconography like surveillance cameras, handcuffs, and Twitter logos, which allude to Ai Weiwei’s tweets challenging authority. Look closely and you’ll find the alpacas—a mascot for freedom of expression in Chinese internet culture.

In the face of authoritarianism around the world, Trace puts a spotlight on the importance—and fragility—of our most basic democratic ideals.

Hirshhorn MuseumAi Weiwei: Trace is organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group, which does not sponsor, authorize, or endorse this program.

Mobile Guide

Explore the Skirball’s presentation of Ai Weiwei: Trace online! Using our FREE mobile guide, learn the harrowing stories of each individual represented the exhibition, listen to audio from the artist and curator, and more. Available in both English and Spanish.

About the Artist

Ai Weiwei has spent nearly four decades exploring the relationships between art, society, and individual experience. His work, as prolific as it is eclectic, encompasses a wide range of media, including sculpture, installation, photography, film, painting, and architecture. He has extended his practice across multiple disciplines and through social media to communicate with a global public and to engage fellow artists with projects on a massive scale.

Ai attended the Beijing Film Academy and the Parsons School of Design in New York. He has received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Politics and Social Science, University of Ghent, Belgium (2010), as well as many international awards.

More to Explore

Watch A Conversation with Ai Weiwei