Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Beijing studio was razed to the ground by authorities on Friday afternoon.
The 61-year-old artist revealed the news on Instagram, writing, “Today, they started to demolish my studio ‘zuo you’ in Beijing with no precaution.” The expansive space in the ZuoYou (Left Right) Art District, a former car part factory that the artist describes as an “East German style socialist factory building,” has served as the artist’s main studio since 2006. “Farewell,” Ai wrote on Instagram.
The demolition began on Friday, August 3, without prior warning. The artist’s rental contract on the studio had expired last fall, and he was aware that the clearing work was likely to begin soon as part of a wider suburban redevelopment strategy, Ai’s studio manager of 10 years, Ga Rang, tells AFP.
“The authorities say they want to develop things here, build malls and commercial buildings,” Ga says. “But it’s a shame—you won’t ever find a place in Beijing like this again.” Many other buildings from the 1960s and ‘70s in the complex have already been destroyed over the past three months. Elsewhere in the city, the Caochangdi art district is also under threat after galleries were evicted from the neighborhood last month to make way for demolition. Ai also has a second studio and residence there, which remains unaffected for now, according to .
The artist has been paying tribute to the ZuoYou studio in a series of Instagram posts highlighting some of the art he made there, including works created for documenta 12, Fairytale Chairs (2007) and Template (2007), as well as more recent creations such as his refugee boat work Life Cycle (2018).
Other posts document the demolition and some show studio assistants collecting dust from the site, which astute commenters have predicted might show up in a future artwork. Ai’s art-handling team has been racing to remove his sculptures before they get caught in the destruction, but the artist told NPR that several works had already been damaged.
“They came and started knocking down the windows today without telling us beforehand,” Ga, the studio manager, says. “There’s still so much stuff inside.” Because of the large scale of many of the works and a dearth of large studio spaces in Beijing, Ai’s staff is now considering temporarily storing the works somewhere outdoors.
This is not the first time the artist has confronted the destruction of a studio in his home country. After Ai began to produce work that was increasingly openly critical of Chinese authorities, he notoriously fell out of favor with the government.
His Shanghai studio was demolished in 2011 ahead of an 81-day detention for alleged tax evasion, followed by the confiscation of his passport and four years of de facto house arrest. Since 2015, the artist has lived in Berlin. The latest attack on his studio is not believed to be motivated by political retaliation, but rather a broader wave of gentrification and redevelopment.
“Compared to a society which has never established trust in the social order, a trust in the rule of law, or a trust in any kind of unity in defending the rights of its people, what has been lost at my studio is insignificant, and I don’t even care,” Ai told NPR. “There are profoundly deeper and wider ruins in this deteriorating society where the human condition has never been respected.”