Alphawood Exhibitions Announces Ai Weiwei’s Trace

Alphawood Exhibitions Announces Ai Weiwei’s Trace

Midwest Premier of Landmark Work
“Ai Weiwei: Trace in Chicago” on view May 9 – June 30, 2018
Artist to Speak at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre on April 30, 7pm

Portrait of Ai Weiwei. Image courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio.

Portrait of Ai Weiwei. Image courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio.

(CHICAGO, IL – April 6, 2018)—“Ai Weiwei: Trace in Chicago,” an exhibition of one of the renowned Chinese artist’s most significant projects in recent years, will be presented in Chicago—in its first showing in the Midwest—from May 9 to June 30, 2018. Presented by Alphawood Exhibitions and organized by the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, the site-specific installation will be on view at 659 W. Wrightwood Ave., in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. In order to maintain an intimate and contemplative experience of the work, admission is limited and by online reservation only. Free timed tickets will be available shortly. To receive a notification when free tickets become available, please register at Walk-ins will not be accommodated.

The presentation of “Ai Weiwei: Trace in Chicago” continues Alphawood Exhibitions’ commitment to bring socially engaged artworks to the people of Chicago. Past exhibitions include “Art AIDS America” (2016–17) and “Then They Came for Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and the Demise of Civil Liberties” (2017), both held in the former Alphawood Gallery.

Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu says, “Throughout his distinguished career, Ai has inspired conversations about global issues. As a leading voice for 21st-century arts and culture, the Hirshhorn was honored to showcase this remarkable and impactful work in the nation’s capital, and we are delighted to work with Alphawood Exhibitions to present it in Chicago.”

Jim McDonough, Executive Director of Alphawood Foundation Chicago, which is underwriting the exhibition, adds, “Ai’s work is at once insightful art and inspiring and unflagging activism. We are deeply grateful to the Hirshhorn and Ai for their collaboration with Alphawood Exhibitions, which is enabling Trace to be seen for the first time in the Midwest. We are also pleased to continue the Foundation’s history of presenting exhibitions that occupy the intersection of art and activism in furtherance of a more equitable, just, and humane society.”

“We hope this exhibition will serve as a catalyst for public discussion in Chicago as it has elsewhere, adding to the international critical dialogue on human rights and the many other issues Ai explores through his art and activism,” notes Sandhya Jain-Patel, producer for “Ai Weiwei: Trace in Chicago.”


Trace is a monumental work comprising nearly one million individual LEGO® bricks arranged to depict women and men from around the world whom the artist considers activists, prisoners of conscience, or advocates of free speech. The work was commissioned in 2014 by the nonprofit FOR-SITE Foundation, in partnership with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, for an exhibition at Alcatraz, the former penitentiary in San Francisco, where it drew nearly one million visitors. In 2017, Trace made its institutional debut at the Hirshhorn.

Each of the handmade portraits in Ai’s work is created with thousands of plastic LEGO® bricks, transforming the universally known, playful toys into a medium for thought-provoking, multi-valent images of particular individuals. In their totality, the portraits summon the concepts of inalienable rights and, with their bright colors and sharp angled edges, they appear to be pixilated, evoking surveillance tapes or photos. While many of the individuals will be unfamiliar to U.S. audiences, most are well known in their own nations.

The creation of Trace was shaped by Ai’s own experiences as a prisoner of the Chinese government. Having previously been brutalized and censored for his activism and outspoken criticism of totalitarian regimes, in 2011 he was incarcerated, interrogated, beaten and kept under surveillance in Beijing for 81 days and then prohibited from traveling abroad until 2015. He conceived and planned Trace during this period.

Trace was created as a site-specific work that be adapted to various exhibition spaces. The installation of the work in Chicago, designed in collaboration with the artist, will include 113 of the original 176 portraits, arranged on the floor in multiple zones spread throughout the building. The exhibition will be accompanied by two short documentary films on Ai’s practice—Ai Weiwei on Trace (2017, Ai Weiwei) and Making of Trace (2014, FORSITE Foundation)—running in a continuous loop (12:15m).

Public Program

On Monday April 30, at 7PM, Ai will participate in a conversation with Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu at the Auditorium Theatre, located at 50 East Congress Pkwy, Chicago. Seating is general admission and tickets are $7 plus a $3 service fee. Tickets for “A Conversation with Ai Weiwei” are available at the Auditorium box office and online at

About Ai Weiwei

Ai is recognized around the world as a creative force and cultural commentator, and for nearly three decades he has redefined the role of both artist and activist. His conscience-driven body of work ventures far beyond the art world and into the realm of modern politics, addressing the movement of refugees, government conflicts, incarceration, and perceived injustice. Despite, or perhaps because of, his unorthodox approach to art making and his expanding social and media savvy, he is arguably among the world’s best-known living artists. Born in Beijing in 1957 to renowned poet and intellectual Ai Qing, Ai Weiwei grew up in the Xinjang region, where his father was exiled in 1959 by the Communist regime. In 1978, the younger Ai studied at the Beijing Film Academy before moving to the United States in 1981. He returned to China in 1993 and helped establish the Beijing East Village contemporary art scene, named for the New York neighborhood in which he had lived. In 2011, after a period of escalating conflict with Chinese authorities over his artwork, Ai was arrested for purported tax evasion. He was held for nearly three months before his release and was forbidden to leave China until 2015.

Ai’s recent major solo exhibitions include those held at the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2009); Tate Modern, London (2010); the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2012); the Royal Academy of Arts, London (2015); the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy (2016), and those of Trace at Alcatraz and the Hirshhorn. He has received numerous awards and honors, notably Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award (2015) and the Wall Street Journal’s Innovator of the year (2016).

About the Hirshhorn

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st–century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers and array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all, 364 days a year. For more information, visit

Exhibition Support

“Ai Weiwei: Trace in Chicago” is underwritten by Alphawood Foundation Chicago, a private grant-making foundation working for an equitable, just, and humane society. Each year, grants are awarded to organizations primarily in the areas of advocacy, architecture and preservation, the arts and arts education, promotion and protection of the rights of LGBT citizens and people living with HIV/AIDS, and other human and civil rights. Alphawood Exhibitions is an affiliate of Alphawood Foundation Chicago.


“Ai Weiwei: Trace in Chicago”

May 2–June 30, 2018

Admission by timed ticket during the following hours:
Wed & Sat, 10am-12pm, 12:30-2:30pm, 3-5pm
Th-Fri, 10am-12pm, 12:30-2:30pm, 3-5pm, 5:30-7:30pm
Hours subject to change.

659 W. Wrightwood Avenue, Chicago, IL

Admission is by online reservation only:
free if reserved within 7 days;
donation required for tickets reserved more than 7 days in advance.
A limited number of timed tickets will be sold each week at Sign up here to be notified when tickets are available.
Information  Please contact or call +1.773.437.6601.


For Alphawood:
Betsy Ennis 917.783.6553:
Lucy O’Brien 646.590.9267:

For Hirshhorn:
Allison Peck 202.633.2825:



LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group, which does not sponsor, authorize, or endorse this program.