Ai Weiwei, Coca Cola Vase (1997), vase from Neolithic Age (5000 to 3000 BCE) and paint [Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland OR, Jul 15-Oct 30] Courtesy Tsai Collection, New York
Dropping the Urn: ceramic works, 5000 BCE-2010 CE is a survey of work by Beijing-based artist Ai Weiwei that includes a selection of his ceramic pieces and photographs from 1993 to the present. Ai Weiwei is one of Chinas leading and most outspoken contemporary artists. His work reflects the dichotomy of traditional Chinese values with rampant consumerism and materialistic ideals. The exhibition marks the artist's first solo show on the West Coast.
Ai Weiwei uses historic Chinese vessels in artworks that express the uneasiness of modern China as she redefines her national identity in a time of state-capitalist culture. His interest in classic Chinese art began in 1993 upon his return to Beijing after spending a decade in New York City. Shocked to find historically important objects in the stalls of flea markets, he began acquiring them for his satirical and socio-politically charged messages.
In works that bridge craft tradition and conceptual practice, the artist treats 7000-year-old Neolithic vessels as well as traditional Han Dynasty urns like ready-mades through such acts as painting a Coca-Cola logo on the surfaces or dipping them in vats of brightlycoloured industrial paint.
In one photographic triptych, Ai documented himself casually dropping an ancient urn. For another work, he ground old world pottery into a powder and stored the remains in a clear glass jar. His methods of smashing, painting and otherwise defacing the archaic pieces point to the recent demolition of historic landmarks by the Chinese government for the purpose of urban redevelopment.