Ai Weiwei - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Wednesday, May 15, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Lisson Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “These stools are commonly used household furniture with hundreds of years of history in China. This symbol is present in every household. I wanted to find how to take this symbol and reassemble it completely, but using the original logic so that it remains true to its original form” – Ai Weiwei

    Ripe with symbolism and imbued with social commentary, Grapes, 2011 exemplifies the indomitable spirit and unparalleled artistic genius of Chinese artist, activist and curator Ai Weiwei. Executed the same year as Ai’s highly publicized detainment by the Chinese police, the present work brims with political undercurrents, sparking a dialogue between the contemporary world and traditional Chinese modes of thought and production. Transforming the humble wooden stool into a monumental trompe l’oeil, Grapes dismantles boundaries of geography and time, engaging with a rich tradition of Chinese craftsmanship while simultaneously inserting itself into Western art historical discourse.

    An irreverent nod to the legacy of Marcel Duchamp, Grapes is composed of 25 antique stools dating back to the Qing Dynasty. Often passed down from generation to generation, the three-legged stools are a powerful display of the centuries-old aesthetic of rural China. Here, Ai exposes the ways in which concepts are constructed, inscribed and passed down, calling into question the referential values imposed on culturally significant artifacts. He explains, “it’s an exploration and display of tradition, which adheres to high aesthetic and moral values in a classic sense but at the same time subverts the meaning through manipulating that same language” (Ai Weiwei, quoted in Michael Frahm, “Interview with Ai Weiwei”, Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace, exh. cat., Blenheim Art Foundation, Woodstock, 2015, p. 90).

    In Grapes, the wooden stools are woven together and fan out in a gigantic sculptural display, creating a spherical form akin to a cluster of grapes. This clustering serves as a metaphor for China’s socialist history, which required individuals to set aside their own personal interests in favor of the state. Yet by titling Grapes after the cherished subject of Western still-life painting – the nature morte – Ai melds these discourses and infuses his work with strata of meaning. Bridging East and West with seamless poeticism, Grapes is a powerful example of the way Ai's practice is both deeply personal and powerfully global in its scope.



signed, titled and dated "Ai Weiwei [in Chinese] “Grapes” 2011" on the underside
25 antique stools
64 7/8 x 76 3/4 x 70 3/8 in. (164.9 x 195 x 178.6 cm.)
Executed in 2011.

$300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for $300,000

Contact Specialist
Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York
+ 1 212 940 1250

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 15 May | On View at 450 Park Avenue