What Ai Weiwei said about his cats



With two sculptures by renowned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei landing in Austin soon, I’ve got a story appearing in the next issue of Austin Way magazine, an assignment that’s been in the works for a while.

Ai’s “Forever Bicycles” is a glimmering, monumental sculptural installation of more than 1,200 stainless steel bicycles. It’ll perch on a pocket of parkland where Waller Creek meets Lady Bird Lake.

Tucked into the trees near the amphitheatre at the Contemporary Austin — Laguna Gloria is “Iron Tree Trunk,” a 15-foot sculpture of uncommon presence.

Though he leverages his considerable international recognition to give a voice to causes and issues, Ai can be famously recalcitrant about his own work.

So when I was offered the opportunity to send questions to Ai (albeit through multiple layers of go-betweens), I didn’t really think he’d respond. Or he might not respond in time for my deadline. So why not include a question about his cats?

The Chinese artist adores cats and has something like 40 in his Beijing compound several of whom make cameos in the 2012 documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.” And he’s even given an interview and photo shoot to a cat magazine. 

Ai is based mostly in Berlin these days. My question to him about his cats was pretty uninspired, but basic. Ditto Ai’s answer.

  •  How many cats do you have in your Berlin home/studio?
  • In Berlin, we only have two cats. We do not have the same luxurious conditions we had at my Beijing studio, which is home to 40 cats.

Yep. That was the extent of our exchange. An Ai Weiwei-typical answer: concise and direct and tells me that I know it’s from him and not one of his handlers. Nice.

See a picture of Ai, his son and one of their cats, on Ai’s Instagram feed

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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