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ai weiwei shanghai studio demolition beijing
Ai Weiwei stands in the rubble of his Shanghai studio in 2011courtesy of The New York Times

Ai Weiwei’s Beijing studio is being torn down

Movers raced to get his remaining artworks to safety

Workers began demolishing renowned artist Ai Weiwei’s Beijing studio on Friday, shattering the windows while many of his works were still inside. Ai left China three years ago, moving to Berlin after being detained for 81 days in 2011 for criticising the Chinese government.

Much of the demolition is documented on Ai’s Instagram, in videos of machinery tearing down walls in swirling clouds of dust, with admirably calm captions that simply read “demolition” or “My Beijing studio since 2006”. The posts also show a crew of movers working to pack Ai’s work into boxes, directed by his long-time studio assistant Ga Rang.

It “simply wasn’t possible” to move such a vast quantity of artworks when Ai’s rental contract ran out last autumn, Ga explains, and though they knew the move would have to happen soon, they were not told when the wrecking machines would arrive. “They came and started knocking down the windows today without telling us beforehand. There's still so much stuff inside.”

Work from the artist’s first solo show in his native country – a 1,500-part reconstruction of a Ming dynasty temple – stood in packing boxes among the rubble. "The authorities say they want to develop things here, build malls and commercial buildings. But it's a shame – you won't ever find a place in Beijing like this again," says Ga.

In January 2011, Ai Weiwei had his Shanghai studio unexpectedly razed by the Chinese government, in similar circumstances.