Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles: Thousands of bicycles transformed into sculptures

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, 2014
Ai Weiwei – Forever Bicycles, 2014, 1,254 bicycles. Dimensions variable. Installation view, Waller Creek Delta, The Contemporary Austin – Museum Without Walls Program, Austin, Texas, 2017, photo: Brian Fitzsimmons/The Contemporary Austin

Ai Weiwei & bicycles

Bicycles have always featured in Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s installations. The very first time that Ai used bicycles was in his installation known as Very Yao1 in 2008. As the years have passed, his use of bicycles has only gotten grander as is evident in his piece titled the Forever Bicycles. In Forever Bicycles, Ai used Shanghai-based Forever Company bicycles to make his massive installation. The repetitiveness and the size of the installation were intended to allude to China’s mass production, which is well known to fuel the Chinese manufacturing industry.

The meaning of Forever Bicycles

The artist used Forever Bicycles also partly in recognition of the huge role that bicycles play in Chinese society. Some editions of the work were composed of 10000 bicycles installed in a 10-meter high space in abstract shapes designed to symbolize the social environment in China.

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, 2011, 2630 x 353 x 957 cm, installation view of Ai Weiwei absent, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2011 Oct 29 - 2012 Jan 29
Ai Weiwei – Forever Bicycles, 2011, 2630 x 353 x 957 cm, installation view of Ai Weiwei absent, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 29 Oct 2011 – 29 Jan 2012

Why did Ai Weiwei use bicycles?

Ai opted to use bikes and not any other object because bicycles were important to him and his community growing up. Bicycles are still commonly used in China today for transportation, so Ai used them because he thought the audience would relate to them. The use of the forever bikes as a medium had an element of poignancy: Although bikes symbolized freedom and movement in China, they were stuck together in the piece could point to the status of Chinese society today.

Different versions of Forever Bicycles

The first version of the Forever Bicycles installed in 2013 featured the suspended Forever bicycles arranged in a circle. Ai made sure to remove all the vital components that make the bike functional such as the seats and pedals, which set the artist on a path of abstraction, which later allowed him to introduce ambiguity to the subject and play around with different patterns. The statically arranged bicycles also offered an illusion of movement, which was also perhaps another commentary on modern Chinese society as people have come to understand and appreciate it.

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, installation view, Martin- Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 2014
Ai Weiwei – Forever Bicycles, installation view, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 2014, photo: Ai Weiwei Studio

Exhibition overview

City, Country Space Year
Tokyo, Japan Mori Art Museum 2009
Taipei, Taiwan Taipei Fine Arts Museum 2011
Washington, USA Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden 2012
San Gimignano, Italy Galleria Continua 2013
Toronto, Canada Nathan Phillips Square 2013
Berlin, Germany Martin-Gropius-Bau 2014
Miami, USA Perez Art Museum 2014
New York, USA Brooklyn Museum 2014
Venice, Italy Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti 2014
London, UK Royal Academy of Arts 2015
Melbourne, Australia National Gallery of Victoria 2015-2016
Boston, USA Boston MFA 2016
Austin, Texas, USA Waller Creek Delta 2017
Buenos Aires, Argentina Fundación Proa 2017-2018
Florence, Italy Palazzo Strozzi 2017
Santiago, Chile CorpArtes 2018
Sao Paulo, Brazil Ibirapuera Park 2018
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil 2019
Abu Dhabi, UAE Corniche 2020

Video: Ai Weiwei on the inspiration behind Forever Bicycles

Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2013: Ai Weiwei on the inspiration behind Forever Bicycles

2 min 40 sec


Subsequent versions of the first installation embraced a more manufactured aesthetic, which allowed the structures to acquire unique architectural proportions. Ai’s work, which has been exhibited in numerous art spaces across the globe, can be reproduced with any brand of bicycle, which almost helps to point to the collective power of thrift and the beauty found in uniformity.

Different installations

Timelapse video, Royal Academy London, 2015

Sculpture in the City 2015: Forever by Ai Weiwei installation time lapse

1 min 9 sec

Forever Bicycles, Toronto, 2013

Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2013: Forever Bicycles by Ai Weiwei | Timelapse of Build

3 min 40 sec

Video: Bjorn Geldhof about Forever Bicycles

Ai Weiwei: Forever Bicycle

2 min 20 sec

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