Ai Weiwei is one of China’s most acclaimed contemporary artists and outspoken dissidents. Working in various mediums, from installations and photography to interactive internet programs, Ai uses his work to call attention to critical social issues.
Colored Vases, Ai’s first work acquired by the Seattle Art Museum, is a pivotal piece in his iconoclastic oeuvre. Ai dipped earthenware vases into buckets of industrial paint and then let them drip dry. By covering the surfaces with new paint, what is underneath—like history itself—is “no longer visible, but is still there.” When asked if the vases were truly ancient, Ai seemed surprised that anyone would think otherwise.
Widely traded for centuries, Chinese ceramics and silk “left the outside world incapable of resistance,” according to Ai. The fundamental irony—always a subtext of Ai’s ceramic works—is that they slyly play on the question of authenticity, an aspect which features prominently in today’s market for Chinese art.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website