The stadium in northern Beijing, instantly recognizable for its weave of curving steel beams, will also host the opening ceremony for Beijing’s Winter Olympics on Feb. 4. In the design phase, Ai hoped the stadium’s latticework form and the presence of the Olympics would symbolize China’s new openness. He was disappointed. He has repeatedly described the stadium and the 2008 Olympics as a “fake smile” that China presented to the world.
Ai expects the Winter Games to offer more of the same. Even before his fame landed him the design job, Ai had been an unrelenting critic of the Chinese Communist Party. He was jailed in 2011 in China for unspecified crimes and is now an outspoken dissident who lives in exile in Portugal. He has also lived in exile in Germany — he still maintains a studio there — and in Britain.