Ai exploits the idea of the readymade that he had learned in the USA, with an iconoclastic alternative that brings another reflection on the meaning of culture. He misappropriates antique Han vases dating from 2000 years earlier in order to paint them in modern bright colors.
In a dramatic gesture that is somehow a happening, Ai realizes in 1995 a sequence of three photographs in which he complacently raises, drops and lets break a large Han urn. He shows by this action that culture itself, not just the artifact, is fragile. The end of Maoism was not enough to restore the balance and the artist protests against corruption.
The subsequent fame of Ai Weiwei as an activist will later highlight the provocative power of the breaking of the Han urn. In 2014 in an exhibition in Miami 16 colored vases are displayed on a table in front of a copy of the photographic triptych. Another artist grabs a vase and realizes in his turn the destructive act.
The set Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn was edited in 2004 in 8 copies, 136 x 109 cm for each element of the triptych. One of the eight sets was sold for £ 750K including premium by Sotheby's on February 10, 2016 over a lower estimate of £ 150K. Another set is estimated HK $ 1.6M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 2, lot 1067.
SOLD for HK$ 4.9M including premium