• Post War and Contemporary Art  auction at Christies

    Sale 5709

    Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction

    11 October 2012, London, King Street

  • Lot 44

    Ai Weiwei (b. 1957)

    Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds)

    Price Realised  

    Ai Weiwei (b. 1957)
    Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds)
    one ton of handmade porcelain sunflower seeds
    dimensions variable
    Executed in 2008, this work was conceived prior to the commission by Tate Modern in 2010. A series of ten unique works with one artist's proof now exist, each accompanied by a certificate signed by the artist.


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    '[T]he sunflower seeds can never be planted and can never grow, but the process of continuously doing something that's not really useful in such a massive way and takes such a long time and with so many people involved reflects those conditions'
    (W. Ai, quoted in J. Bingham, Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London 2010, p. 81).

    A particularly meaningful work for the artist, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds) is one of the earliest Sunflower seed sculptures by Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei. A monumental sculptural installation comprised of thousands of individually hand-painted porcelain pieces and weighing one ton, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds) is first experienced as a single entity: an orderly structure built out of the collective. In this monochromatic vista, each component seed forsakes its own individuality to become part of a vast and expansive grey and white landscape. Yet despite its voluminous scale, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds) maintains a quiet and minimal presence. Subtly washing over the floor or placed into a conical pile, the work is reminiscent of a pebbled shore or Zen rock garden. Upon interacting with the seeds, there is a moment of realisation at the discovery that they are in fact exquisitely rendered, methodically and traditionally crafted porcelain; a stark contrast to their organic inspiration.

    Executed in 2008, two years before the seminal Tate Modern exhibition of one hundred million seeds that was featured in the Turbine Hall, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds) has become Ai Weiwei's most iconic and celebrated body of work. The first Chinese artist to be awarded the Unilever commission, Ai Weiwei continues to stimulate the art world with his iconoclastic gestures. Whether he is documenting himself dropping a priceless antique or reconfiguring Qing dynasty furniture to negate its original utilitarian function, Ai Weiwei has created a truly unique artistic vernacular. Through the deconstruction and often, reconstruction, of traditional Chinese art forms, Ai Weiwei thrusts these culturally-specific mediums and art forms into a contemporary context.

    As seen in Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds), the traditional ceramic medium of porcelain is extracted from its original 'function' and placed into a new context, completely incongruent with its historical purpose. For the production of these works, Ai employs local craftsmen from the town of Jingdezhen to manufacture the seeds in bulk and then paint each seed individually. During China's dynastic period, the production of porcelain at Jingdezhen was reserved exclusively for wares of the Imperial Court. The rise of porcelain production in the West in the seventeenth century spelled the decline of Jingdezhen in both wealth and official patronage. In creating a mock industry with this project, Ai references both a historically revered 'official' art form and contemporary mass produced goods. It is with elegant simplicity and a playful attitude that Ai offers the viewer an ironic, multifaceted commentary on Chinese systems of value.

    This at times irreverent attitude can be seen in the artist's elevation of inherently 'useless' objects. The porcelain sunflower seeds cannot be planted, grown or eaten. Their inorganic nature elicits a probing curiosity and therein lies the work's most powerful aspect: the basic freedom to question. When understood in the context of modern China and Ai's role as a political activist, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds) becomes a poignant and incisive commentary directed toward the lack of transparency within Chinese politics. as the artist articulated: 'the sunflower seeds can never be planted and can never grow, but the process of continuously doing something that's not really useful in such a massive way and takes such a long time and with so many people involved reflects those conditions' (W. Ai, quoted in J. Bingham, Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London 2010, p. 81).

    Provenance

    Galerie Urs Meile, Lucerne.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2010.


    Pre-Lot Text

    PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN COLLECTOR


    Literature

    G. Jansen and R. Klanten (eds.), Art & Agenda. Political Art and Activism, Berlin 2011 (another from the series illustrated in colour, p. 162).


    Exhibited

    Munich, Haus der Kunst, So Sorry, 2009-2010 (another from the series exhibited, illustrated, p.72).
    Glenside, Arcadia University Art Gallery, Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn, 2010 (another from the series exhibited, installation view illustrated in colour, p. 8; illustrated in colour, pp. 78-79). This exhibition later travelled to Portland, Museum of Contemporary Craft; Knoxville, Knoxville Museum of Art and London, Victoria and Albert Museum.
    Tillburg, De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Ai Weiwei, 2012.