Descending Light , 2007. Glass crystals, brass, and electric lights, 156 x 180 x 268 in.

Making Everything: A Conversation with Ai Weiwei

In 2007, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei brought 1,001 of his compatriots to Documenta for a city-wide performance called Fairytale, and Template, a 39-foot-tall structure made of doors and windows salvaged from houses destroyed during China’s recent building boom, was a highlight of Skulptur Projekte Münster—despite its collapse in a violent storm at the beginning of the show. In early 2008, Mary Boone Gallery hosted “Illumination,” Ai’s first major New York exhibition, and a few months later, another of his works, the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing (created in collaboration with the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron), was broadcast around the world during the Olympics.

The centerpiece of the New York show, Descending Light, was an adaptation of Ai’s iconic chandelier form. In this work, the form appears to have buckled due to the violent impact of a fall, its colossal structural rings still festooned with strands of red crystals illuminated from within. With its brilliant red, emblematic of China, Descending Light simultaneously conveys the toppling of established order and the burning promise of the future.

The exhibition also included a sculpture created from Qing dynasty stools. Ai Weiwei was born in Beijing in 1957 and educated at the Beijing Film Academy and Parsons School of Design in New York. He returned to China in 1993 to found the China Art Archives and Warehouse in Beijing and now heads a large art and architecture studio under the name Fake Design.