Watch your step

Ai Weiwei is using LEGOs to represent activists at the Hirshhorn Museum

Art East
Ai Weiwei is using LEGOs to represent activists at the Hirshhorn Museum. Image: Ai Weiwei, Trace, 2014. Installation view on Alcatraz Island, San Francisco. (Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio)
Ai Weiwei is using LEGOs to represent activists at the Hirshhorn Museum. Image: Ai Weiwei, Trace, 2014. Installation view on Alcatraz Island, San Francisco. (Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio)

Ever placed the sole of your bare foot onto a piece of LEGO left on the floor? If you have, you know the and sheer pain and annoyance at 1) How such a harmless looking single brick could cause so much pain and 2) Why it was there in the first place. If one floor-bound LEGO brick is enough to cause you such discomfort, then prepare to be triggered at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of thousands of bricks, courtesy of Ai Weiwei, will be laid on the floor to form portraits.

These are not just any old pieces of portraiture, though. In Ai Weiwei: Trace at Hirshhorn, the Chinese artist has chosen to represent activists. Perhaps this is fitting. Activists, to those in power, can be as aggravating as treading on a piece of LEGO. Collectively, they are more daunting—as daunting as say, walking across an entire floor of jagged LEGO.

Within the circular museum, 176 portraits all comprised of LEGO and assembled by hand populate the museum’s second floor, spanning 700 feet. Ai Weiwei: Trace at Hirshhorn will fill the entirety of the second-floor galleries and also feature two graphic wallpapers, one of which is being exhibited for the first time. This debuting artwork is titled The Plain Version of the Animal That Looks Like a Llama but is Really an Alpaca and will cover the outer wall of the Hirshhorn’s second floor. The piece includes images of surveillance and is a monochrome take on Ai’s The Animal That Looks Like a Llama but is Really an Alpaca which itself will be found in the lobby of the same floor.



This will be the first time Ai’s Trace has been shown on the East Coast. Trace was first commissioned in 2014, opening at Alcatraz in San Francisco as a collaboration between the nonprofit FOR-SITE Foundation, the National Park Service, and the Golden Gate Park Conservancy. The exhibition and artwork featured derives from Ai’s treatment by the Chinese government stemming back to 2011 when he was incarcerated, interrogated and tracked by authorities for 81 days. In addition to this, Ai was also banned from exiting China until two years ago.

Ai Weiwei: Trace at Hirshhorn will be on view from June 28 through January 1, 2018. The evening before the exhibition’s opening, Ai will give the annual James T. Demetrion Lecture in the Hirshhorn’s Ring Auditorium marking his first appearance in the city. In 2012, the museum ran a retrospective of the artist’s work, the first in the U.S., alas, Ai was prohibited from attending.

Free tickets for the lecture will be released online on June 19. More details can be found on the museum website.

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