Ai Weiwei arrived in New York at the age of 24. He had already shown his work in the now famous Stars exhibition in Beijing in 1979, the first avant-garde art exhibition after the end of the Cultural Revolution. He studied for a while at Parsons while living in Brooklyn and then the East Village and Lower East Side. He quickly became a prominent member of a community of expatriate Chinese artists and intellectuals in the neighborhood’s then burgeoning avant-garde scene.
Throughout those years, from 1983 to 1993, the artist used his camera to document his life and work, his surroundings, and the atmosphere of the time. The photographs document a distinct era in New York, as seen through Ai Weiwei’s eyes, tracing the beginnings of his conceptual art practice. They depict East Village poetry readings, riots in Tompkins Square Park, drag queens at Wigstock, and well-known artists and intellectuals from China, such as filmmaker Chen Kaige, composer Tan Dun and artist Xu Bing.