Ai Weiwei, “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” 1995
An astonishingly irreverent piece of work. This triptych features the artist dropping a Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) in three photographs.
When questioned about the work, he suggested that the piece was about industry: “[The urn] was industry then and is industry now.” His statement, therefore, was that the urn was just a cheap pot two thousand years ago, and the reverence we feel toward it is artificial. One critic wrote: “In other words, for all the aura of preciousness acquired by the accretion of time (and skillful marketing), this vessel is the Iron Age equivalent of a flower pot from K-Mart and if one were to smash the latter a few millennia from now, would it be an occasion for tears?”
However, the not-so-subtle political undertone is clear. This piece was about destroying the notion that everything that is old is good…including the traditions and cultures of China. For Ai Weiwei, this triptych represents a moment in which culture suddenly shifts (sometimes violently), shattering the old and outdated to make room for the new.