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  • Provenance

    Private collection, Beijing

  • Catalogue Essay

    Ai Weiwei is a conceptual artist and architect. His father, Ai Qing, was one of China’s most renowned poets who was exiled to Xinjiang with his family during the Cultural Revolution. Ai spent his formative years in Xinjiang and returned to Beijing with his family after the Revolution, when he founded the avant-garde Stars Group in 1979. Disillusioned with politics and art in China, he would depart shortly for New York, where he remained for the next ten years. He returned to Beijing in 1993, upon which he quickly became the unofficial grandmaster of the burgeoning experimental Chinese art scene in the Beijing East Village. Today he is one of China’s most celebrated artists and architects. He is responsible for several of the most innovative architectural projects in the country, including Beijing’s Olympic Stadium which he designed in conjunction with the Swiss architectural firm Herzog and de Meuron.

    Ai, who was influenced by Duchamp and other members of the New York School in his early years, works in mediums that run the gamut from photography to sculpture to ten thousand and one people for his project for Documenta 2007. A common thread that runs through his sculpture is his deviant reconfiguration of traditional Chinese materials such as furniture from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911) and prized blue-and-white Chinese porcelain. Although his works initially appear subversive or iconoclastic, closer inspection reveals that they only protest against illegitimate authority, while drawing the viewer’s attention to the aesthetic purity of these historical forms.

    Ai is perhaps most renowned for his Furniture series, of which the present lot, Crossed Tables, is one of the earliest prototypes. Classical furniture in ancient China was laden with social signifiers that were inferred from each piece’s style, craftsmanship, proportion, and its context in relation to other furniture. The artist takes apart original Ming and Qing Dynasty antiques and subversively reconstructs the pieces so that they bear entirely different relationships to each other and to their physical environment. These sculptures, on the one hand, wreak violence on such signifiers as well as the centuries-old Platonic ideal of the table; on the other, they are extraordinarily beautiful and natural forms, as if the tables had been whisked through a time/space disruption and emerged perfectly twinned. The works compel us to view these classical forms anew as abstractions rather than utilitarian objects; it is as if we look upon the form and proportion of these poised, elegant tables for the first time. Another interesting aspect of the artist’s technique is his devout attention to traditional craftsmanship and the use of these skills in conceiving of his sculptures. Each of the Furniture works are crafted using the same centuries-old joining techniques that were used to make the original furniture, without nails, screws, or other foreign implements.

85

Crossed Tables

2000
Tables, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
33 3/4 x 44 5/8 x 81 in. (85.7 x 113.3 x 205.7 cm).
Signed and dated "Ai Weiwei 98" on the underside.

Estimate
£30,000 - 40,000 

Sold for £45,600

Contemporary Art

22 June 2007, 4pm & 5pm
London