Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn (Ceramic Works, 5000 BC – AD 2010)
Ai Weiwei is recognised throughout the world as a key figure at the forefront of contemporary art in China.
His artistic practice encompasses a wide range of media, from architecture and sculpture to photography, ceramics and film.
Ai was born in Beijing in 1957, son of the renowned Chinese poet Ai Qing (1910-1996). After attending the Beijing Film Academy in the 1970’s he moved to the United States in 1981, eventually settling in New York. It was in America that Ai first began to experiment with ‘ready-made’ objects as a key part of his artistic practice, under the strong influence of Marcel Duchamp.
On his return to Beijing in 1993 Ai turned his attention to classical Chinese artistic traditions and crafts. Many of the works he made during the 1990’s such as Untitled, 1993 act as a commentary on China’s transformation during this period and the impact of capitalism on cultural heritage and traditional artistic practices.
Featuring a selection of ceramic works and photographs made from 1993 to the present day the V&A's exhibition Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn (Ceramic Works, 5000 BC – AD 2010) offered a rare opportunity to view some of the most iconic works in the field of Chinese contemporary art.
It included examples of Ai’s use of Neolithic and Han dynasty ceramic vessels as ‘ready-mades’, which the artist transforms and reinterprets using a variety of procedures, some of which are captured and presented in a short film. It also featured an installation of Ai Weiwei’s intriguing and deceptive ceramic sunflower seeds, which represent one of the artist’s most recent projects.
Through his work Ai engages with 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, globalization and concepts of the ‘fake’ and the ‘real’.
Written to accompany the exhibition Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn (Ceramic Works, 5000 BC – AD 2010)
‘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.
We are grateful to the Secretary of State, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council for the generous provision of UK Government Indemnity for this exhibition.