By RILEY YAXLEY
Trace, Ai Weiwei’s monumental work, comprises nearly one million individual LEGO® bricks depicting 176 men and women who are prisoners of conscience, and exploring the theme of incarceration of citizens by governments. It is being exhibited for the first time in Chicago.
This is the second time that the artwork will be on view to the public since its original exhibition at Alcatraz, the former federal penitentiary in San Francisco, in 2014. Trace was one of seven pieces that made up @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, which drew nearly one million visitors. In 2017, Trace made its institutional debut at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and was acquired for their permanent collection. The site-specific installation of Ai Weiwei: Trace in Chicago is organized by the Hirshhorn and continues Alphawood Exhibitions’ history of socially engaged, and politically charged, shows following 2016’s Art AIDS America and 2017’s Then They Came For Me.
Trace’s creation was influenced by Ai Weiwei’s own experience with imprisonment by the Chinese government. In 2011, he was incarcerated, interrogated, and beaten by the police in Beijing and was held for 81 days before he was released and officially charged. Weiwei was charged with tax evasion and had his passport confiscated. He was unable to travel abroad until 2015 and fabricated Trace remotely from his studio in Beijing in partnership with the FOR-SITE Foundation. Each portrait features an individual, selected by Amnesty International and through Ai Weiwei’s research, whom the artist considers activists, prisoners of conscience, and advocates of free speech.
The opening of Ai Weiwei: Trace in Chicago was preceded by A Conversation with Ai Weiwei at the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University. The talk featured Ai Weiwei in conversation with Melissa Chiu, Director of the Hirshhorn Museum.
Trace will be on view at a new gallery space in Lincoln Park, located at 659 W. Wrightwood Ave. from May 9 to June 30. The new exhibition space is designed to be a meditative, thought-provoking environment. In order to maintain this experience, admission is limited and by online reservation only. Free timed tickets are available, and can be reserved at http://www.alphawoodex.org/