Photo Courtesy of  Josh Garrett, 2018
Ai Weiwei

 b. 1957 Beijing, China

Art Type
Media / Materials
Year Completed
Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Purchased with funds from John and Mary Pappajohn, 2018.43
Latitude & Longitude
Location Description
Southeast portion of Pappajohn Sculpture Park; along Locust Avenue, between 15th and 13th Streets in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.

Iron Tree Trunk

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“Iron Tree Trunk” (2015) a life-sized cast of a tree found in the Jiangxi Province of Weiwei’s native China, unites individual pieces of iron into a whole structure. Its size comes matched by small nuances, down to tree rings around the base and weathered cracks in the bark. This massive cast of a tree references both the cultural tradition of finding poetry and contemplation in natural phenomena. It also alludes to the challenges inherent in China’s rush to industrialization.

Installed in 2018, the cast iron sculpture called “Iron Tree Trunk”, 2015, was created by Ai Weiwei (Chinese, born 1957). Photo by Rich Sanders.

The overall dimensions of Ai Weiwei’s “Iron Tree Trunk” (2015) is 198 × 76 3/4 × 39 3/8 in. (503 × 195 × 100 cm.) The artist cast this sculpture from the remains of a single large tree, so unlike some of his other tree works, which can be described as Frankenstein-like assemblages, this piece is more monolithic and naturalistic.

In 2009, Ai Weiwei began collecting organic wood fragments from the mountainous regions of Jiangxi in southern China and meticulously constructing the roots and branches into intricate tree compositions. These monumental sculptures are based on a wooden predecessors and took years to compose. The trees complex, animated branches conjure images of dragons that recur throughout the Chinese visual tradition. The untreated surface evolves over time, developing an oxidized patina with even greater visual dimension. With these evocatively powerful works, Ai Weiwei creates a contemplative environment for the viewer, inviting reflection on their relationship to nature, culture, history, and self. From a distance they register as trees – but closer examination reveals a myriad of awkward cuts and stainless steel bolts which hold the sculptures together. Each is a metaphor for cultures and communities of widespread diversity brought together as a social whole is foundational to the artists intention.