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Photo credit: © Ai Weiwei (TASCHEN, 2014)

Artist Ai Weiwei has been busy. Just over the past few weeks, his works have been on display at the Brooklyn Museum, the Pérez Art Museum Miami and at Art Basel Hong Kong, and will show up on the island of Alcatraz in the fall. Always moving toward the next project, it would seem China’s most famous contemporary artist has little time to look back.

This summer, however, Hans Werner Holzwarth and Taschen release one of the most comprehensive studies of his work yet: A signed, limited-edition monograph ($1,500) done in collaboration with the artist himself.

“Working on a comprehensive monograph of a living artist is like curating a mega-large retrospective exhibition,” says Holzwarth, who spent about two years with Ai putting the book together. “He has become a household name, and now you need to take a comprehensive look at his work to understand how he got there.”

That journey is charted over the book’s 724 pages, which are filled with essays from Uli Sigg, the former Swiss ambassador to China and the artist’s long-time friend; Roger M. Buergel, curator of 2007’s Documenta art event; and a variety of experts on Chinese culture and politics. Exclusive interviews with Ai and myriad previously unseen images—including photos he took in New York, installation shots taken in his workshop and pictures from his studio—round out the display. “With Ai Weiwei, more than with other artists, it is important how things are made,” Holzwarth adds. “We really wanted to glue all the bits and pieces together to show the complete picture.”

As an added touch, each of the 1,000 special-edition copies comes wrapped in a silk scarf based on a detail from Straight, his work that references the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, and every chapter begins with a full-page opener designed by Ai in traditional paper-cut style. “To make an important book like this,” says Holzwarth, “everything has to be specially created out of the artist’s work.”

At least that’s one thing Ai can check off the to-do list.


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