Updated: Mar 30, 2020
By Alex Stuart
Ai Wei Wei has been honoured for his "outstanding achievements in interpreting current affairs.” His recent work has included three monumental installations of gated walls in New York, in protest against Trump’s border-control proposals. His outspoken criticism of the Chinese government provoked the authorities to demolish his Beijing studio last year, sparking international outrage.
The prize board of trustees emphasized Ai Wei Wei’s "multi-layered, reflective work that illuminates our present-day sensitivities with creative energy, intellectual vigour, and critical awareness.” This is the first time the prize has been awarded to a non-author in the five years since its conception, after the death of Frank Schirrmacher in 2014. Schirrmacher was a German intellectual, literature critic and co-publisher of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
He wasn’t afraid to call out authors on controversial topics in his articles and book reviews, which often influenced public debate, such as the 1990 Literaturstreit with his attack on Christa Wolf’s Was Bleibt (read this journal article for a comprehensive but snappy summary). Controversial French intellectual Michel Houellebecq is amongst previous prize winners.