The humble bike has inspired artists ever since Marcel Duchamp put a bicycle wheel on top of a stool in 1913–even Picasso, during the bleakest period of World War II, used a pair of handlebars and a bike saddle to whimsically conjure the skull of a bull. The artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained in a secret location for 81 days by the Chinese government last summer, continues this tradition with a new exhibition in Taiwan.
As part of what the museum bills as the first large-scale solo exhibition of the artist’s work to be held in the Chinese world, Ai Weiwei’s most recent work, Forever Bicycles, installs 1,200 bicycles–some hanging from the ceiling, some standing upright on the floor–one behind the other. The bikes have no handlebars and no seats and instead use those parts of the frame to extend upward and outward to connect to other wheels and other frames, creating the illusion of a labyrinth-like space in a three-dimensional area.
Installed at the highest point of the museum, nearly 100 feet high, the sheer quantity of bikes allows this most functional of objects to take on an abstract quality when viewed from a variety of different angles. The exhibition, entitled Absent because the artist is not allowed to travel and therefore will not be present at the show, contains 21 additional works by the artist, already famous for his Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing. It will be on view until January 20.