AI WEIWEI (B. 1957)
AI WEIWEI (B. 1957)
AI WEIWEI (B. 1957)
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AI WEIWEI (B. 1957)
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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more
AI WEIWEI (B. 1957)

Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn

AI WEIWEI (B. 1957)
Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn
(iii) signed and numbered 'Ai Weiwei 8⁄8' (lower right in margin)
gelatin silver print in artist's frame, in three parts
each image: 50 1⁄4 x 39 1⁄2in. (127.7 x 100.3cm.)
each overall: 59 3⁄8 x 48 5⁄8in. (150.8 x 123.4cm.)
Executed in 1995, this work is number eight from an edition of eight
Galerie Urs Meile, Lucerne.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
C. Merewether (ed.), Ai Weiwei Works: Beijing 1993-2003, 2003 (illustrated, pp. 66-67).
Galerie Urs Meile: Lucerne Beijing, exh. cat., Beijing, Galerie Urs Meile, 2006 (illustrated, p. 3).
A. Jasper, ‘The 5th Asia Pacific Triennial’ in Frieze, no. 105, 2007 (detail illustrated, p. 195).
P. Tinari, ’A Kind of True Living’, in Artforum International, Summer 2007 (illustrated, p. 457).
C. Merewether, ‘Made in China', in Parkett, no. 81, 2007 (illustrated, pp. 148-149).
D. Coggins, ‘Ai Weiwei’s Humane Conceptualism’, in Art in America, September 2007, p. 121.
P. Tinari, Ai Weiwei Works: 20042007, 2007, p. 10.
A. Jasper, ‘Critical Mass’, in Art Review, no. 22, 2008 (illustrated, p. 54).
C. Yinghua Lu, ‘Mr. Big’, in Frieze, no. 116, 2008, p. 168.
K. Smith, H. Ulrich Obrist and B. Fibicher, Ai Weiwei, London 2009, p. 158 (illustrated, pp. 62-63).
The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds, exh. cat., London, Tate Modern, 2010-2011, no. 44, p. 54 (illustrated, pp. 54-55).
H. Werner Holzwarth (ed.), Ai Weiwei, Cologne 2016.
New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Ai Weiwei, 2004 (another example exhibited).
Beijing, China Art & Archives Warehouse, Misleading Trails, 2004-2006 (another example exhibited). This exhibition later travelled to DeKalb, Altgeld Gallery at Northern Illinois University; Denton, University of North Texas Gallery; Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Philip Hanes Art Gallery at Wake Forest University; Nashville, Fine Arts Gallery at Vanderbilt University; St. Mary’s City, Boyden Gallery at St. Mary's College of Maryland; Saratoga Springs, Schick Art Gallery at Skidmore College; and Lewisburg, Samek Art Gallery at Bucknell University.
Brisbane, Queensland Art Gallery, The 5th Asia-Pacific Triennale of Contemporary Art, 2006-2007 (another example exhibited, p. 56).
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Made in China: Works from the Estella Collection, 2007-2008 (another example exhibited, illustrated, pp. 23-25).
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Made in China: Contemporary Chinese Art at the Israel Museum, 2007 –2008 (another example exhibited).
Sydney, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation and Campbelltown Arts Centre, Ai Weiwei: Under Construction, 2008, no. 1, p. 59 (another example exhibited, illustrated, pp. 26-27; detail illustrated, p. 58).
Tokyo, Mori Art Museum, Ai Weiwei: According to What?, 2009-2014, p. 137 (another example exhibited, illustrated, pp. 88-89). This exhibition later travelled to Washington DC, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art; Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario; Miami, Perez Art Museum and New York, Brooklyn Museum.
Liverpool, Liverpool Biennale, 2008 (another example exhibited).
Madrid, Ivory press Art+Books Space, Ai Weiwei. Ways Beyond Art, 2009 (another example exhibited, illustrated, p. 2).
Glenside, Arcadia University Art Gallery, Ai Weiwei: Dropping The Urn, Ceramic Works, 5000 BCE 2010 CE, 2010-2012 (another example exhibited, illustrated, pp. 58-59; installation view illustrated in colour, pp. 88-89; source image illustrated, p. 29). This exhibition later travelled to Portland, Museum of Contemporary Craft, and London, Victoria & Albert Museum.
Winterthur, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Ai Weiwei Interlacing, 2011-2013 (another example exhibited, illustrated, p. 95-99). This exhibition later travelled to Graz, Kunsthaus Graz; Paris, Jeu de Paume; Oslo, Kistefos-Museet and Sao Paolo, Museum of Image and Sound.
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Ai Weiwei, 2015, no. 20, p. 157 (another example exhibited, illustrated, pp. 156-157; installation view illustrated in colour, pp. 162-163).
Pittsburgh, The Andy Warhol Museum, Andy Warhol /Ai Weiwei, 2016 (another example exhibited, illustrated, p. 10).
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, 2017-2018 (another example exhibited, illustrated, p. 175).
Toronto, Gardiner Museum, Ai Weiwei: Unbroken, 2019 (another example exhibited, illustrated, unpaged).
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
Further details
Another from the edition is currently held in the collection of The Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane and The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh.

Brought to you by

Anna Touzin
Anna Touzin Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Perhaps his most iconic photographic artwork, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995-2004) stands as a powerful example of Ai Weiwei’s entire creative practice. A triptych of black and white stills, almost one and a half metres high, captures the artist dropping a 2,000-year-old ceremonial urn onto the ground. The first shows Ai holding the artefact; the second shows him letting go; the third shows it shattered into pieces before him. The artist maintains a blank, expressionless gaze, staring straight towards the camera throughout the act. As the Han Dynasty is considered a defining period in the history of Chinese civilisation, the urn is an emblem of considerable symbolic, financial and cultural worth. By dropping the urn, Ai breaks down traditional representations of authority and authenticity, radically challenging these ideas of value as anything but abstract, independent concepts. ‘I wouldn’t call it being destroyed,’ he says: ‘it just has another life, you know, it’s a different way of looking at it’ (W. Ai, quoted in T. Marlow, ‘Ai Weiwei in Conversation’, in Ai Weiwei, exh. cat. Royal Academy of Arts, London 2015, p. 20).

Ai grew up in Inner Mongolia where his father, the famed poet Ai Qing, was exiled during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. After the family returned to Beijing, Ai moved to New York where he worked as an artist for over a decade. He developed a deep interest in conceptual art, and was particularly influenced by the ‘readymades’ of Marcel Duchamp. Returning to Beijing in 1993, Ai’s work became increasingly iconoclastic and engaged with issues of contemporary Chinese culture. Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn incorporates what the artist has called a ‘cultural readymade’. It marks the beginning of a radical conceptual shift in his work, whereby he began to use antique objects in order to explore how, and by whom, cultural values are created. The work encapsulates broader themes covered by Ai across his oeuvre, which forms an ongoing socio-political commentary on the nature of power structures and the cycles of creative destruction necessary for a culture’s growth and development. As Philip Tinari has written, the triptych ‘works as a satire of the ruling regime’s approach to its patrimony and of contemporary China’s curious relation to its past’ (P. Tinari, ‘Postures in Clay: The Vessels of Ai Weiwei’, in Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn (Ceramic Works, 5000 BCE 2010 CE), exh. cat. Arcadia University Art Gallery, Pennsylvania 2010, p. 33). Countless examples of centuries-old craftsmanship were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, as the old made way for the new; more heritage is lost daily as the country amps up its rapid urbanisation and vast industrial output. Recent decades have, ironically, seen a growing trade in mass-produced Chinese forgeries of Han-Dynasty artefacts. Any patriotic outrage at his ‘vandalism’, Ai implies, is mere hypocrisy. Featured in prominent solo and group exhibitions worldwide, including at the Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York, and the Royal Academy of Arts, London, this monumental work illustrates Ai’s continual dedication to the questioning of sovereignty and promotion of independent thought.

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