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Triptych: lightjet print on ilford baryta paper
Edition of 38
Dimensions: 31cm (H) x 69cm (W) / 12.2" (H) x 27.2" (W)
Note: Actual colours may vary due to photography & computer settings.
In 2010 a commentator on the work of Ai Weiwei remarked that “his fame and image remain primarily associated with the iconoclastic component of his art and especially his 1995 photographic triptych, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn.” This remains true today even when it is his identification with the cause of human rights that has contributed to the widespread recognition of his name. The origin of the triptych as we know it today dates back to 1995 when Ai was living in his family home in Beijing, after having spent a decade in New York in the 1980s and early 1990s. He spent a great deal of time in the antique markets that at the time had an abundance of material excavated during the rebuilding of Beijing and throughout the 1990s. Handling thousands of objects and beginning to collect himself, he began to develop considerable expertise. He also began a lifelong interest in questions regarding the real and the fake, copy versus original, and began to look askance at the unquestioning veneration for anything old.
The brief performance Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn raises many questions, and this accounts for a large part of its fascination. There may be a reference to to the violence of The Cultural Revolution and Chairman Mao’s statement that the only way to build a new world is to destroy the old one. It can also be interpreted as a veiled comment on the destruction of heritage going on as a side effect of unchecked modernization.
First published in 1995 in The White Book, one of three books that Ai Weiwei coedited in the mid-1990s, the triptych was later enlarged to 148 x 121 cm to accommodate the many requests for exhibition. A further enlargement was made in 2015 when Ai made the decision to execute it in Lego, a material he had first used for the portraits of 176 prisoners of conscience in the exhibition @ Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Island in 2015.
The new photographic edition, a LighJet print Ilford Baryta paper, returns the image to a more intimate scale, conveying the private nature of the performance, without spectators. Once again its modest size makes it possible for the private collector to contemplate in his own home.
As Featured In
Artling Exclusive: Ai Weiwei's Dropping a Han Dynasty UrnThe Artling is excited to announce an exclusive with internationally-renowned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, in collaboration with Chambers Fine Art. Known for his gripping, thought-provoking oeuvre, Ai Weiwei’s latest features arguably his most famous work, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, a photographic triptych that turned heads and caused a ripple in the art world in 1995, two years after his return to China from New York.
February 17, 2022
Based in: Beijing
As well as being one of the world’s leading artists, Ai Weiwei has become prominent for his social activism and criticism of the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and human rights. His recent works brought social issues in China at the forefront of the international stage. In 2011, he was detained by the Chinese police for 81 days, and has not been allowed to leave the country since.
Born in 1957 in Beijing, Ai Weiwei’s father Ai Qing was one China’s best-known poets who was denounced during the Cultural Revolution one year after Ai Weiwei was born. The Ai family spent the next 18 years in exile and only returned to Beijing in 1976. In 1978, Ai Weiwei was admitted to the Beijing Film Academy and founded the avant-garde ‘Stars’ group together with Ma Desheng, Wang Keping, Huang Rui and other artists. The first unofficial exhibition of this group, which took place by a fence of the Beijing National Gallery, attracted international attention. Ai lived in the US between 1981 and 1993, and studied briefly at Parsons School of Design in New York. In 1994 after returning to China, Ai co-founded the China Art Archives and Warehouse (CAAW) with Frank Uytterhaegen and the late Hans van Dijk. In 2000, Ai Weiwei co-curated his first exhibition ‘Fuck Off’ with Feng Boyi in Shanghai. Although almost immediately closed by the officials after it was opened, ‘Fuck Off’ remained to be one of the most important exhibitions in the history of Chinese contemporary art. Ai Weiwei’s first solo exhibition only came in 2008 at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York, and in the same year he received the prestigious Chinese Contemporary Art Award. His works were featured in major exhibitions at the Venice Biennale (2013); Kunsthaus Bregenz (2011); the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2011); Asia Society Museum, New York (2011); Tate Modern, London (2010); São Paulo Bienal (2010); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2009); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2009); and Documenta XII (2007), to name a few. Ai lives and works in the Art District of Dashanz in Beijing.
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