Ai Weiwei Takes On Coca Cola In New London Exhibition

Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn (Ceramic Works, 5000 BC – AD 2010) Victoria & Albert Museum

A new exhibition which displays work by Beijing artist Ai Weiwei opens at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington in early October. It examines one of the most prominent artists working in China today and features a selection of photographs and video alongside ceramic works. This is a rare opportunity to view some of his most iconic works in the context of one of the greatest collections of ‘Chinese Art’ outside of China. Dropping the Urn offers viewers a focused look at Ai’s iconoclastic appropriations of historic clay pots and porcelain vases. The oldest works in the show utilize 7000-year-old Neolithic urns dating to 5000 BCE (‘Before Common Era,’ a non-religious alternative to the use of BC). This body of work is distinguished by its paradoxical investment in the Chinese ceramic vessel, a legacy whose values and significations it both questions and transcends.

Through his work Ai addresses issues pertinent to contemporary China; notably the loss of historic material culture due to rapid modernization and the effects of the global economy on traditional modes of production. His work also engages with broader themes, including perceptions of value, mass production and brand globalization, such as Coca Cola.

‘Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn’ was organized by Arcadia University Art Gallery and supported by The Pew Centre for Arts and Heritage through the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative.This exhibition has been supported by the Friends of the V&A and Travel with the V&A: China.

Ai Weiwei is without a doubt one of the most intelligent makers negotiating the art/craft divide.  Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Oregon is his first museum exhibition on the west coast, and a fitting venue for an international contemporary artist engaged in a deep dialog with Chinese culture, art history, ceramics and craft.  The exhibition addresses ceramic tradition but is satisfying on visceral and theoretical levels as contemporary art.

The best works in the exhibition are those in which Ai takes archaic Chinese vessels and treats them as readymades.  These include paint-dipped pots, pulverized urns in a jar, a pot with a superimposed Coca Cola logo, and a photograph of the artist casually letting a Han dynasty urn smash on the ground.  Of these works the painted Colored Vases immediately catch your eye.  Ai treats the ancient pots irreverently, dipping them into buckets of industrial paint so as to leave some evidence of the original surface decoration and, thus, their age.  The off-the-shelf colors pop brightly against the original dull brownish tones of the vessels, a gesture of cultural washing that nearly obliterates the past in favor of a brighter new plastic-colored future. Other pieces follow a similar conceptual path: Ai crushed Neolithic-age pottery to powder and stored the gritty remains in a clear glass jar. Here, the funereal act of memorializing an old urn in a modern urn coupled with the implied violence of the grinding gives the work cerebral and visceral force.

The exhibition includes a selection of ceramic works and photographs ranging from 1993 to the present, Ai Weiwei: Ai’s focused exploration of earthenware and porcelain,which started after the artist returned to Beijing in 1993 from a decade in New York City. The exhibition will present a critical opportunity to understanding his original approach to visual art,including his sculpture, installation, photography, video, performance, and architecture as well as curating and his very recent arrest and activism.

The Exhibition runs from 15 October 2011 – 18 March 2012  Visit Exhibition


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