A way to share and manage lots.
£200,000 - 300,000 ‡
sold for £297,000
Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing
Phillips, New York, 14 May 2015, lot 64
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Distinctively juxtaposing an iconic relic from the Golden Age of Chinese history with current notions of modernity, Ai Weiwei’s Coca-Cola simultaneously presents contemporary sentiments and tradition, creativity and manufacture. The fragile antique from the second imperial dynasty of China (206 BC – 220 AD) is boldly seized and adorned with the iconic red ‘Coca Cola’ logo, creating a controversial yet profound sculptural proclamation. Characteristic of Ai’s provocative oeuvre, the present work confronts the viewer with a ‘satire of the ruling regime's approach to its patrimony, and of contemporary China's curious relation to its past, a situation where destruction of historical artefacts happens almost daily.' (Philip Tinari, Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn Ceramic Works, 5000 BCE-2010 CE, exh. cat., Arcadia University Art Gallery, Philadelphia, 2010, n.p.)
Executed in 2012, Coca-Cola belongs to Ai’s iconic series which he commenced in 1994, soon after returning to China following over a decade in America. Having arrived in the U.S. in 1981, Ai discovered Andy Warhol’s mass–produced and processed images. Within a culture where ‘the richest consumers buy essentially the same thing as the poorest...a Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking’ (Andy Warhol, quoted in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (From A to B and Back Again), New York, 1975, p. 100). Ai learnt to interrogate the nature of creation, mass-production and the notion of the readymade. With the appropriation of Coca-Cola, a household brand claimed by Warhol as commonplace and yet also glamorously tied to the icons of pop culture such as Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, the artist powerfully sheds the vase of its traditional values and aligns it with a product of contemporary culture.
Assuming the unique 2,000 year-old object and emblazoning it with a motif associated with American capitalism, Ai unapologetically disrupts established notions of culture and value. Persistently using his creativity as a means of communication, in Coca-Cola Ai questions the role of art, by disturbing the status quo and raising issues of cultural appropriation. Ai removes the anthropologically significant vase from the realm of the historical and stirs a fundamental contemporary Chinese concern: the vulnerability of tradition to accelerated modernisation. As explained of these works, ‘the actions imposed on antique Neolithic and Han pots represent the destruction of conventional or established values’ (Karen Smith, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Bernard Fibicher, Ai Weiwei, New York, 2009, p. 104). Adding dimension to the Duchampian notion of the readymade, Ai’s vases possess an inherent cultural worth before his interference. In line with Joseph Beuys' preoccupation with politics and inciting social change Ai deconstructs preconceived artistic and political ideals and challenges freedom of expression. Coca-Cola questions the role of everyday objects, reminding the viewer of the value of tangible matter as well as the significance of social responsibility and identity.
Opposing a handmade Chinese relic with a highly commercial logo, the present work interrogates the way cultural heritage is reliant on familiar symbols. ‘What appears at first like the sublimation of an ancient object's financial value and cultural worth into a different yet parallel carrier of updated value and worth also serves as a satire of the ruling regime's approach to its patrimony, and of contemporary China's curious relation to its past, a situation where destruction of historical artefacts happens almost daily’ (Philip Tinari, Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn Ceramic Works, 5000 BCE-2010 CE, exh. cat., Arcadia University Art Gallery, Philadelphia, 2010). Decontextualizing the consumerist image and brandishing it onto a fragile and endangered artefact, Ai wittily and unfailingly challenges the viewer to reconsider his collective identity.
Categorical in his struggle for the sovereignty of expression, Ai refused to submit to conformity; his conceptual outlook rebels against the limitations of society. Through his public controversy the artist has surfaced as one of the most relevant artists in contemporary practice. Intelligently questioning the interaction between art, history, culture, politics and the individual, Ai’s diverse, controversial and varied oeuvre consistently interrogates the notion of identity within an ever-changing society. Pivotal in the artist’s sustained investigation of present-day issues, Coca-Cola examines the crucial subject of mass production, a staple in the discursive and confrontational realm of contemporary art.
£200,000 - 300,000 ‡
sold for £297,000
London Auction 6 October 2017