Throughout the spring, Sotheby’s has paid tribute to Modern and contemporary artists who pushed boundaries with their work and made us see art – and the wider world – differently. Confident, daring, courageous, audacious and at times heroic, these artists have taken creative risks, knowing they may not be understood, let alone embraced, but seizing the moment and owning it anyway. 


A$AP ROCKY. PHOTO BY SAM NIXON.

Challenged and inspired by these bold creators, we took a risk of our own, inviting two very different creative people to share the same frame in an exclusive Fearless Now video: artist-activist Ai Weiwei and musician, actor and entrepreneur A$AP Rocky. 

The video is centered around a fundamental question: What does it mean to be fearless? Operating in separate cultural precincts, representing different generations, and closely identified with specific places, Ai Weiwei and A$AP Rocky responded to that and other questions in ways that both heightened and erased these distinctions. Despite their differences, the artists share some common beliefs about art as a form of expression, and each is shrewdly deploying their talent and visibility to leverage their influence. Both are fiercely devoted to making work that will change the world. 


AI WEIWEI. PHOTO BY MORGAN ANDERSON.

Ai Weiwei is an artist and activist whose recent work has drawn attention to the refugee crisis. The subject is unflinchingly documented in his film Human Flow, a devastating wakeup call to the west. The messages of the film are distilled and echoed in Humanity, a collection of quotes about such topics as power, freedom, displacement culled from Ai’s lectures and writings.

Published in April by Princeton University Press, the pocket-sized edition is a portable reminder of a dire situation that, especially in the US, is at a certain remove. “A solution starts with people being aware of the issue,” says the book’s editor, Larry Warsh.

“The next step is to be sensitive, understanding and generous. Those words are lacking in the larger conversation about refugees, and Weiwei brings us that message.”


FROM LEFT: AI WEIWEI’S HUMANITY; AN IMAGE FROM A$AP ROCKY’S INSTAGRAM FEED.

The release of his much-anticipated third album is imminent, but the precise date it will drop and its title are still secret as of this writing and will be announced to his 7.4 million Instagram followers. What we do know: Rocky has changed personally and professionally in the past three years, and the album will test new ideas and the idea of people as test subjects under constant scrutiny by governments, corporations and each other.

With a global presence, Ai Weiwei and his work were familiar to A$AP Rocky, the Harlem-born rapper and style influencer whose profile in the contemporary art world is rising along with his career as a musician.

“My Testing project is connected to the way I see life,” says Rocky. “With my new music, I challenged myself to take different approaches and try different aesthetics. I’ve always experimented, but now I think it’s more important than ever.”

Fearless Now is dedicated to all the artists who are challenging themselves and their audiences, provoking a conversation and seeing things before the rest of us do. “Art has many forms,” says Ai Weiwei. “But it is always unexpected.”