Artist Ai Weiwei posted videos on Instagram today that appear to show backhoes beginning to take apart one of his studio buildings in Beijing. He wrote, “Today, they started to demolish my studio ‘zuo you’ in Beijing with no precaution . . . Farewell.”
In his posts, Ai said that he had used the building as his studio since 2006. He described it as an “East German style socialist factory” that is located on the outskirts of the city, in the Left Right Art District, according to an AFP report.
That AFP story includes an interview with Ga Rang, an assistant for the artist, who said that the artist’s team was still in the process of moving out artworks when construction workers began knocking out the windows. The story goes on, “Around the back of the building lay a cemetery-like collection of different parts from Ai’s various works, a ghostly outdoor retrospective.” Ga said that the Chinese government plans to build commercial buildings in the area.
Collector Larry Warsh, who is a friend of Ai, told ARTnews by phone, “This is sadly not surprising but very sad.”
After his initial posts, Ai shared images of various sculptures and installations that he produced in the building, including one of his Miami Chadelier (2008) pieces, Tree (2015), and a prototype for his sculpture Law of the Journey (2017), of people aboard a lifeboat, which was recently shown in the Biennale of Sydney.
Such quick clearances and massive urban redevelopment are common in the city. Last month, some galleries located in the Caochangdi district were notified that they had two weeks to move out of their spaces, pending demolition, according to the Art Newspaper, reportedly because authorities believe their buildings had been illegally constructed.
In 2011, Chinese officials demolished Ai’s studio in Shanghai, a move that the artist believed was in his response to his activism. Ai has long been critical of the Chinese government’s human-rights abuses and corruption, and later that year was detained for 81 days. He was ordered to pay fines for unpaid taxes and his passport was subsequently held by authorities until 2015. When it was returned, he moved to Berlin.
There has been no indication that this new case of demolition is connected to Ai’s political work. Ga, his assistant, said that his rental agreement for the space had expired, but that it had not been possible to move works out of the building quickly enough.
Also among the photographs that Ai put on his Instagram today was one shot in his studio of Stools (2013), a grouping of more than 5,000 wooden stools, which will appear in a one-person exhibition opening September 29 at Jeffrey Deitch’s forthcoming gallery in Los Angeles.
Sarah Douglas contributed reporting.