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  • Provenance

    Galerie Urs Meile, Lucerne

  • Exhibited

    Liverpool, Liverpool Biennale, 20 September–30 November, 2008; Campbelltown, Sherman Foundation of Contemporary Art, Ai Weiwei: Under Construction, 2 May–29 June, 2008; Brisbane, Queensland Art Gallery, Fifth Asia-Pacific Triennale of Contemporary Art, 2 December, 2006–27 May, 2007; New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Ai Weiwei, 9 September–9 October, 2004; Lewisburg, Samek Art Gallery at Bucknell University, 5 October–19 November, 2006; Saratoga Springs, Schick Art Gallery at Skidmore College, 13 June–22 September, 2006; St. Mary’s City, Boyden Gallery at St. Mary's College of Maryland, 17 January–4 March, 2006; Nashville, Fine Arts Gallery at Vanderbuilt University, Nashville, 13 October–9 December, 2005; Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Philip Hanes Art Gallery at Wake Forest University, 22 August–2 October, 2005; Denton, University of North Texas Gallery, 25 April–2 July, 2005; Altgeld Gallery at Northern Illinois University, Misleading Trails, 18 January–13 May, 2005; Beijing, China Art & Archives Warehouse, Misleading Trails, 14 August–30 September, 2004 

  • Literature

    K. Smith, “Portrait of the Revolutionary as an Artist,” Art in Asia, May–June 2008, pp. 58–64 (illustrated); R. Cooke, “Cultural Revolutionary,” The Observer, 6 July 2008; A. Pasternak, “Reluctant Return for a Beijing Provocateur,” New York Sun, 7 March 2008; J. McDonald, “Destruction and Creation,” Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 2008 (illustrated); "Mr. Big," Frieze, Issue 116, June–August 2008; D. Coggins, “Ai Weiwei's Humane Conceptualism,” Art in America, September 2007; P. Tinari, Ai Weiwei - Works: 2004–2007, Beijing 2007, p. 10; C. Merewether, (ed.), Ai Weiwei - Works: Beijing 1993-2003, Beijing 2003, pp. 66-67 (illustrated); C. Merewether, Made in China, New York 2007, pp.146–151 (illustrated); C. Merewether, “Ruins in Reverse,” in Merewether, C. (ed.), Ai Weiwei. Under Construction, Sydney 2007, pp.25–127 (illustrated pp. 26 and 59)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” is perhaps the most famous exemplar of Ai Weiwei’s iconoclastic phase in the mid-1990s.  A constant in Ai’s diverse accomplishments in art, architecture, and other activities is the artist’s unrelenting scrutiny of structures of power  and the advocacy of independent thought.  Ai spent his early childhood in Inner Mongolia where his father, the famed poet Ai Qing, was exiled during the Cultural Revolution.  After the family’s return to Beijing, a disillusioned Ai left China for the United States where he would spend more than a decade.  He returned to Beijing in 1993 and is today the most celebrated cultural commentator of independent spirit working in China. Ai’s artwork in his New York days was heavily influenced by Duchamp, Johns, and Rauschenberg, focusing on the nature of and relationship between found objects. 
     
    After his return to China in 1993, his work grew increasingly iconoclastic, formally breaking down traditional representations of authority and authenticity into surreal, sometimes disconcerting, yet always elegant new wholes.  His favored subjects were traditional Ming and Qing Dynasty furniture (the “Furniture” series) and urns and ceramics ranging from the Neolithic age to the Han Dynasty.  Ai’s photography exudes an openly reactionary strain compared to his subtler sculptural works: “June 1994” depicts his wife, the artist Lu Qing, with upraised skirt in a seemingly ordinary gesture in Tiananmen Square; the “Study of Perspective” series shows the artist’s middle finger cheerfully poised at various international monuments. Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn is a painstakingly deliberate close-up of the split seconds required to permanently transform an artifact that had survived over two thousand years.  The tripartite documentation of this now-famous act is the perfect illustration of Newton’s three Laws of Motion: a poker-faced Ai holding the urn (the law of inertia), the urn dropping in midair (the law of resultant force), and the vessel’s fragments at his feet (the law of reciprocal actions).  While the triptych gained notoriety as an iconoclastic gesture, it encapsulates several broader constants in Ai’s work: the socio-political commentary on the random nature of vectors of power; questions of authenticity and value (vis-à-vis the artist’s comment that the value of “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” has today exceeded that of the once-prized urn itself), and the cycle of creative destruction necessary for any culture’s survival and evolution.

109

Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn

1995
Digital print in three parts.  
Each: 121 x 148 cm. (47 5/8 x 58 1/4 in).
Signed 'Ai Wei Wei' lower right of third work. This work is from an edition of eight and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

Estimate
£40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for £49,250

Contemporary Art Day Sale

18 Oct 2008 2pm
London