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Ai Weiwei

painted vases

AI Weiwei | China b.1957 | Painted vases 2006 | Synthetic polymer paint on ceramic (Neolithic period) | Purchased 2006. The Queensland Government’s Gallery of Modern Art Acquisitions Fund | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Ai Weiwei’s works respond to China’s rich artistic heritage by reconfiguring objects such as Ming and Qing dynasty furniture, Han dynasty urns and Neolithic vases. He frequently incorporates acts of destruction and reconstruction in the creation of his work. Often his re-configured pieces are positioned in dramatic new situations where notions of value and authenticity are questioned.

Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) ceramics are admired for their refined lines, elegant proportions and the quality of their glazes. For the modern collector, the values and meanings attached to these objects are vested not only in aesthetic characteristics, but also in their unique cultural authority as evidence of one the greatest epochs in China’s long history. In Painted vases 2006, Ai Weiwei has performed a radical act in transforming these traditionally monochromatic objects into a brightly coloured array. He says of this action that it is ‘powerful only because someone thinks it’s powerful and invests value in the object’. The urns are valuable because the arbiters of taste and the art market have determined them so. In this work, the meaning and value of the urns is transformed and co-opted into a contemporary work that subverts and disrupts the prevailing value system to which it previously belonged.