Ai Weiwei - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 11, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘We shall not have succeeded in demolishing everything unless we demolish the ruins as well.’

    - ALFRED JARRY, 1899

    Ancient vases are smothered in cheap, brightly coloured household paint. Where do we draw a line between art and vandalism? Ai Weiwei aims to address this question, problematising issues of history, cultural value, and authenticity. These themes have been central to his work for over twenty years: in 1994, he painted a 2000 year old Han Dynasty urn with the Coca Cola logo, and an iconic photograph from 1995 shows him dropping another to smash on the floor (famed collector Uli Sigg, who purchased the Coca Cola urn, was photographed in 2012 dropping his own in homage). The 2009 series Dust to Dust comprises more Neolithic pottery from 3,000 - 5,000 BC, crushed to powder and placed in glass vessels.

    These vases have scandalised many, for varying reasons. Last year one of a group on display in Miami’s Pérez Art Museum was smashed by local artist Maximo Caminero in protest against the gallery’s focus on international artists; news reports screamed that he was to be sued for $1 million US (a vastly inflated figure), serving to highlight how Ai Weiwei’s perceived desecration of the artefact had ironically only heightened its monetary value. Other cultural critics have lamented his gaudy obliteration of irreplaceable pieces of ancient craft.

    In this controversial process, however, the artist examines a particularly Chinese dialogue with cultural ownership. Ai Weiwei purchased the vases from antique dealers, so is legally free to do as he wishes with them, much as Uli Sigg was free to smash the urn in his collection. During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government itself encouraged the destruction of ancient artefacts; modern China's mass-produced fixation on western values compounds this loss of selfhood. China is confronted with the iconoclasm and trauma of its own past. This is a provocative and potentially nihilistic gesture, but creates a new work of art: in their bold treatment of history, politics and tradition, Ai Weiwei’s urns enact the vital role that destruction plays in the redefining and renewal of culture.


Coloured vases (in 3 parts)

industrial paint on Neolithic vases, in 3 parts
(i) 29.2 x 27.9 x 27.9 cm (11 1/2 x 11 x 11 in.)
(ii) 26.7 x 22.9 x 22.9 cm (10 1/2 x 9 x 9 in.)
(iii) 34.3 x 25.4 x 25.4 cm (13 1/2 x 10 x 10 in.)

Signed and dated 'Weiwei 2010 12-3' on the underside of the third vase.

£100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for £182,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 12 February 2015 7pm