On Friday, workers began demolishing Ai Weiwei’s Beijing studio without any advance notice, forcing laborers to rush to crate and evacuate more than a decade’s worth of art. Ai had taken over the space—a former car parts factory on the city’s eastern outskirts in the Left Right Art District—in 2006, but last year his lease expired. Recently, his studio workers were told that they would need to move soon, but were given no specific date.
“They came and started knocking down the windows today without telling us beforehand. There's still so much stuff inside,” Ga Rang, a longtime assistant to Ai who managed the space, told the AFP. “The authorities say they want to develop things here, build malls and commercial buildings. But it's a shame—you won't ever find a place in Beijing like this again.”
The artist took to Instagram on Friday, posting a video of the destruction. “Today, they started to demolish my studio [...] with no precaution. [F]arewell,” he wrote in the caption. In subsequent posts, Ai not only shared additional footage of the building’s demolition, but also posted photos of the many famous works he created there, including large-scale pieces for Documenta 12 in 2007; his sprawling installation of straightened rebar salvaged from schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 (Straight, 2008–12); and his rubber and bamboo sculptures of migrants aboard life rafts.
The sudden demolition of Ai’s studio is not exactly out of keeping with large-scale development projects in Beijing, which have often involved the rapid displacement of artists’ studios and galleries. Just last month, galleries in the Caochangdi district (where Ai’s design firm, Fake Studio, is based) were abruptly informed that they had two weeks to relocate before their buildings would be torn down. While the demolition of Ai’s studio appears to be part of a larger development effort (many other buildings in the Left Right Art District had already been leveled before Friday), he has often received unwanted attention from Chinese officials. He was famously detained for 81 days in 2011, allegedly for tax evasion, though the artist and many observers believed the real motivation was his increasingly vocal criticisms of the Chinese government, particularly in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake.