"At a poetry reading at St Mark’s In-the-Bowery (The Poetry Project), Ai met Allen Ginsberg who had come to know Ai’s father (the venerable poet Ai Qing) on a trip to Beijing. He began spending time with Ginsberg. “He read his poems to me”, Ai said, "one of the ones that he wrote for his mother – “White Shroud” – “and I didn’t quite understand it, but he loved reading it”.
- from the May 24 2010 New Yorker profile by Evan Osnos. Evan Osnos's recent dispatches (he is a staff writer for the magazine, based in Beijing) can be read here.
Ai spent ten crucial years in New York's East Village as Allen's friend and neighbor, and documented his time there ("hanging out, whiling away my time") with over 350 rolls of film (approximately 10,000 photographs!), a selection from which became his 2009 show at the Three Shadows Photography Arts Center, Ai Weiwei: New York Photographs 1983-1993 ".
"Everyone in Bejing knew that his basement apartment on East 7th Street had become an unofficial embassy for the avant-garde in exile", writes Philip Tinari in his Summer 2007 piece on Ai, in Artforum, looking back on those years. Ai's fame (son of a famous father, famous as an outspoken dissident) is a central aspect of this story.
In what is still very much an on-going event (the Chinese Government crack-down, Ai Weiwei's detention), further background is perhaps necessary. As well as Osnos' piece(s), useful information is provided by the BBC's documentary, "Without Fear or Favor" and by the recent PBS Frontline documentary, "Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei?", the latter taken from Alison Klayman's upcoming full-length documentary, "Ai Weiwei:Never Sorry". Mention should also be made of the artist's own video contribution to last month's TED Conference, so described by the organizers as "an unexpected and courageous statement about his treatment by the government, social change, the power of the web, and his hope for the future of China". For daily updates and further information we would also direct you to the Ai Weiwei watch at Hypoallergic.