Ai Weiwei
In Search of Humanity

Sept. 30, 2023 – March 3, 2024 This exhibition has ended
Portrait of Ai Weiwei (2012). Photo by Gao Yuan, courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio, © Ai Weiwei
ON VIEW UNTIL SUNDAY 3 MARCH - Kunsthal Rotterdam is proud to present a large-scale exhibition by one of today’s most prominent artists, the activist, and critic of authoritarian power systems Ai Weiwei. In Search of Humanity is his most comprehensive retrospective to date. Including paintings, cultural ready-mades, works made from LEGO bricks, sculptures, installations, photography, and video works, the exhibition presents an impressive overview of Ai Weiwei's over-four-decades-spanning career and features key works from all his different creative periods.

Book your tickets

This must-see exhibition offers an insight into the life of the world-famous Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei, such as his early childhood spent in exile with his father since the Anti-Rightist Movement, or his own detainment in 2011. His artworks show his quest for humanity and a better world. The artist believes we all have a responsibility to take action against threats to freedom of speech and violations of human rights – from the Chinese government’s intimidation techniques and the call for freedom, to warfare and the global refugee crisis.

Everything is art. Everything is politics.
Ai Weiwei

Lego artworks and porcelain sunflower seeds

The exhibition shows 120 of his artworks, including Forever Bicycles (2003), a large bicycle sculpture made from bicycles without handlebars to emphasize that you are not in control, in reference to the dominant Chinese regime. With Sunflower Seeds (2010), a floor with 1 ton of hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds, Ai Weiwei challenges the ‘Made in China’ mantra that China is known for. Also shown are the iconic photographs in which he raises his middle finger to famous international monuments as symbols of power. With little LEGO bricks Ai Weiwei realises disturbing images, for instance of a drowned refugee in After the Death of Marat (2018), or of his arrest in Illumination (2019).

Ai Weiwei, Illumination (2019), LEGO bricks, Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio and Lisson Gallery © Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei, Illumination (2019), LEGO bricks, 308 × 385 cm, Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio and Lisson Gallery © Ai Weiwei

Four decades worth of artworks  

In Search of Humanity pays attention to all periods in Ai Weiwei’s wide-ranging career and offers insight into the aesthetic principles of his artistry. Characteristic of his earliest art are his childhood memories from China. In these surprising and mysterious works, he combines objects that have no logical or functional connection: a shovel in a fur coat, for instance, or two shoes that appear to be embracing each other like mating dung beetles. Ai Weiwei regularly shows the remains of destruction in his work. The artist refers to the Chinese craft that is being lost, but the works also reflect his life as a dissident and criticism of the Chinese government.   

A lasting testimony to inhumanity

Ai Weiwei’s ready-mades are everyday objects that he gives a new meaning to by elevating them to the level of art. Examples of this are Julian Assange’s treadmill that now symbolises his hopeless situation, or a toy panda stuffed with classified NSA documents. In this way he puts topical political issues on prominent display. The artist wants to prevent us from forgetting about these important problems as we have often gotten use to their representation in the media. Ai for instance manages to direct our attention to the refugee crisis with an artwork featuring lifejackets that were left on the beach by refugees.

The powerful message of art  

Ai Weiwei's metamorphoses and transformations appear to be useless monuments to things. The resulting confusion gives us valuable food for thought, especially at a time like today when democracy is in under attack. The exhibition shows how powerful art can be.

Can a civilization that is built on the misfortune of others carry on forever?
Ai Weiwei


In Search of Humanity is realised in collaboration with Ai Weiwei Studio, Albertina Modern in Vienna and guest curator Dieter Buchhart.

Catalogue (sold out)

On the occasion of the exhibition Ai Weiwei: In Search of Humanity a richly illustrated English catalogue of the same title will be released. This publication will pay ample attention to Ai Weiwei's life and work, providing an impressive overview of significant works from all stages of the artist's extensive career. Featuring essays by guest curator Dieter Buchhart, Albertina Modern curators Roger M. Buergel, Elsy Lahner and Melissa Lumbroso, as well as art historian John Tancock. This 336-page publication was available for € 54,95 at the Kunsthal Shop or via

Book your tickets


Ai Weiwei  - tentoonstelling - Kunsthal Rotterdam
Ai Weiwei, detail of S.A.C.R.E.D. (Supper), 2013, Diorama in fiberglass and iron, 197 × 377 × 148 cm each, Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio and Lisson Gallery © Ai Weiwei

Plan your visit

The exhibition attracts many visitors. We recommend planning your visit in advance by booking an online ticket. Would you like to have an indication when the most visitors are in the Kunsthal? View the visitor indicator here.

Online tickets

Ai Weiwei  - Forever Bicycles - tentoonstelling - Kunsthal Rotterdam
Ai Weiwei, Forever Bicycles (2003) 42 bicycles, ø 450 x 275 cm, Private collection Photo Albertina, Vienna, Lisa Rastl and Reiner Riedler, Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio © Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei  - Neolithic Vase with Coca-Cola - tentoonstelling - Kunsthal Rotterdam
Ai Weiwei, Neolithic Vase with Coca-Cola Logo (1994) Pottery and paint, ø 31 × 40 cm, Private collection, Photo Albertina, Vienna, Lisa Rastl and Reiner Riedler, Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio © Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei  - Study of Perspective - tentoonstelling - Kunsthal Rotterdam
Ai Weiwei, Study of Perspective – Tiananmen Square (1995), Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio © Ai Weiwei
Friday open until 22:00
On 21 June - during Friday Night LIVE - the Kunsthal will be open in the evening.
Book your tickets
Kunsthal & Cookies
For an optimal website visit, we use functional and analytical cookies. To show videos and advertisements based on your interests, your consent is required for the use of marketing cookies. You can change this at any time. View our cookie statement and privacy statement.
These cookies enables the website to work like it should. These cookies are not optional.
These cookies are set by third parties, like YouTube or Vimeo.
These cookies allow us to measure the usage of the website and improve it accordingly.
These cookies allow our advertising partners to offer content tailormade for you.
When you disable categories, some functionality in the website might not work correctly. It's possible to change your preferences at any time. More information.