Ai Weiwei - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, March 6, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Faurschou Foundation, Copenhagen (acquired directly from the artist in 2015)
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘It's about communicating. It's about how we use the language which can be part of our history or part of another history, and how we transform it into today's language.’ Ai Weiwei, 2009

    Adorning a treasured relic from the second imperial dynasty of China (206 BC – 220 AD) with the iconic crimson Coca-Cola logo, Ai Weiwei’s Coca-Cola Vase, 2014, coalesces ancient tradition and contemporary iconography. The aged surface of the urn, brimming with historical import, is smeared by bright commercial script and suddenly re-purposed into a symbol of modernity, boldness, and defiance. As it wraps itself around the vestige, the logo invites the viewer to reflect on a number of present-day issues, including the crucial subject of mass production. Previously housed in the Faurschou Foundation, Copenhagen, Coca-Cola Vase belongs to an ongoing cycle of works, other examples of which are held in such eminent institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

    Executed in 2014, Coca-Cola Vase belongs to Ai’s eponymous series commenced shortly after the artist’s return to China in 1994, following a decade of living in America. Having arrived in the United States in 1981, Ai discovered Andy Warhol’s iconic 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). Reflecting on the precious quality of Han dynasty urns in contrast to the easy accessibility and pervasiveness of soft-drink Coca-Colas, Ai remarked, ‘every day I went to the antique market, but I didn’t have much to do. So one day I Coca Cola’d a pot, because it reminded me of a Coca-Cola souvenir plate I once bought in Atlantic City’ (Ai Weiwei, quoted in ‘It Is Impossible to Simplify My Feelings About China: Ai Weiwei on His Controversial Art, in 2006’, ARTnews, 7 August 2015, online). Shedding the urns of their anthropological importance, Ai’s irreverent gesture transforms them into products of contemporary culture.

    The son of one of modern China’s most renowned poets, Ai Weiwei was born in Beijing in 1957. In 1979, the artist became a member of Xingxing, the first avant-garde group in China after the revolution. Ever since, his work has continued to strike controversy, tackling issues of identity through the exploration of craftsmanship and the deconstruction of social and popular influence. Particularly pertinent to contemporary China, these concerns are made relevant notably by the loss of tradition and historical culture ensued by the country's rapid modernisation and the adoption of a global economy. Philip Tinari remarked: ‘[Ai Weiwei's] gestural practice of defacing and destroying these ancient objects to transform them into works of contemporary art, provide the illusion of clarity alongside the persistent spectre of ambiguity. 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 Unversity Art Gallery, Philadelphia, 2010).

    The artist’s approach to the relic is undoubtedly amongst the most innovative in the canon of contemporary art. Despite coming from a country that is experiencing one of the most rapid periods of economic and social change to date, the artist manages to draw consistent associations between the past and the present, the individual and the mass culture into which we are born. The Coca Cola series addresses the principal motifs of ceramic tradition whilst engaging with contemporary issues on a visceral and theoretical level. Having long attracted international attention for questioning the Chinese government's policies on democracy, human rights and free speech, Ai persistently engages with concepts of appropriation and exploitation. His deliberate destruction of the natural status of a valuable object in the service of a brand-new artwork refers back to this now established tradition of iconoclasm and appropriation. ‘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).

    Coca Cola Vase interrogates the way cultural heritage is reliant on familiar symbols. Brandishing a consumerist image onto an endangered artefact, Ai shrewdly challenges the viewer to reconsider the notion of collective identity.


Coca-Cola Vase

signed and dated 'Weiwei 2014' on the underside
painted Han dynasty vase (206 BC-220 AD)
35 x 50 x 27 cm (13 3/4 x 19 5/8 x 10 5/8 in.)
Executed in 2014.

£250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for £325,000

Contact Specialist
Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2019