Artist and activist, prominent in reconnecting art with flashpoint social and political issues
Ai has said and done plenty of controversial things, but telling a newspaper he was looking forward to arguing with Britons about Brexit might be the most farfetched. The formerly Berlin-based artist moved to the UK this year, citing shifting attitudes to immigration in Germany as one reason he packed his bags. That he remains so newsworthy in a year that’s been quieter than most on the exhibition front – aside from gallery shows, museum outings in just Los Angeles, Düsseldorf, Toronto and St Louis – is indicative that what happens in the studio is only half the story: more important is the celebrity voice he wields for causes dear. Ai spent the year supporting Hong Kong protesters on social media, collecting a GQ Award and getting thrown out of Munich’s Haus der Kunst after voicing support for staff facing redundancy in the institution’s current ‘restructuring’. He was also the subject of Cheryl Haines’s awardwinning documentary Yours Truly (2019), ‘revealing how simple acts of kindness can change the world’.