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Ai Weiwei’s Colored Vases

‘His childlike vandalism of ancient pots contains a potent political message’

In 1994, the renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei decorated a Han Dynasty urn with the red Coca-Cola logo; the following year he had himself photographed dropping and smashing another.

Colored Vases (2009-10), which feature in the show on the artist at the Lisson Gallery in London (until 16 July), continue in the same spirit of protestation.

Despite their seemingly innocent pigmentation, the rainbow defacement with industrial paint of these precious Han Dynasty pots form part of the artist’s larger critique of the Chinese state’s cultural and historical vandalism.

On 2 April, the State Councillor of Culture of the People’s Republic of China opened the first international exhibition at the newly refurbished National Museum of China called The Art of Enlightenment.

The very next day, in a jarring synchronicity, Ai was arrested by Chinese police in Beijing as he was about to board a flight to Hong Kong.

No official notifications have been given about his whereabouts or the reason for his detainment, and at the time of going to press he has been imprisoned for 47 days without charge.


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