The "On the Table" show at Barcelona's La Virreina gallery spans photos, videos, sculptures, installations and architecture models from Ai's stint in New York in the 1980s to recent works.
"There are over 40 objects with a selection of items from the beginning of his career as well as works that are now iconic and well known and works made especially for this exhibition," the show's curator Rosa Pera said.
The goal of the exhibition is to show how China's best known contemporary artist uses images to explore "the tension between truth and lies, evidence and ambiguity, control and freedom," she said.
A sculptor, designer and documentary-maker, Ai has irked Beijing by using his art and online profile to draw attention to injustices in China and the need for greater transparency and rule of law in the world's most populous country.
Despite his fame, Ai has been banned from leaving China since being secretly detained for 81 days three years ago by China's authoritarian communist government for reasons that were never specified.
After his release in June 2011, Ai's design firm was slapped with a hefty tax bill, which he fought unsuccessfully in Chinese courts.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is a table and ten chairs normally installed in Ai's studio in Beijing where he meets to discuss his projects. He sent it as a symbol of his inability to attend the show in person.
The public is invited to sit in the chairs, take pictures and then upload them on social media sites, a preferred medium of the artist.
"When you put something on the table … you do not keep any cards up your sleeve and you show everything you are capable of doing," said Pera, explaining the title of the exhibition which will run until February 2015.
One of the works made specially for the show is an installation consisting of pieces of marble that simulate grass sprouts emerging from the ground.
The walls of the room where the installation is displayed are decorated with stamped images of an extended middle finger.
Among the items on display is his "Study in Perspective" photo series, where the artist's middle finger is positioned in front of global landmarks, such as the White House, the British parliament and the Sydney opera house.
The show also includes some of his most famous works, including an ancient ceramic jug decorated with a Coca-Cola logo, a map of China made out of wood from ancient Chinese temples and a small sample from the 10 tonnes of porcelain sunflower seeds which covered the floor at London's Tate Modern as part of his 2010 installation "Sunflower Seeds".