Vito Schnabel Gallery is pleased to present Ai Weiwei: Zodiac, an exhibition focused upon three central groups of work from the artist’s oeuvre, including the triptych Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (2015); twelve wall-based LEGO Zodiac portraits (2018), exhibited for the first time; and the celebrated series Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold (2010), comprising twelve sculptures in gilded bronze.
Ai Weiwei: Zodiac is the gallery’s first collaboration with the renowned Chinese artist and activist. Engaging Ai Weiwei’s deep admiration for the Duchampian readymade and his longstanding interest in ancient historical artifacts, the works on view in this exhibition raise questions about authenticity and the formation of cultural values, and scrutinize existing power structures. Together, they create tension between past and present, ancient and modern, in order to provoke important conversations about loss and preservation, repatriation and cultural heritage, censorship and surveillance. With Zodiac, Ai Weiwei invites the visitor to join in his exploration of the relationship between an original and a copy, what is “real” and “fake”, and where authorship begins and ends.
In 1995, the artist unveiled Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, one of the most provocative works of his oeuvre up to that point: a series of black-and-white photographs that captured him shattering a precious 2000-year-old ceremonial urn. For the performance documented in these photographs, Ai stood before the camera, staring directly into its lens to confront the viewer’s gaze while the camera shutter clicked. The resulting three images of Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn show the urn in the artist’s hands; the urn falling to the ground; the urn smashing into shards on the floor. Challenging existing value systems through a highly subversive act, this piece was Ai’s response to China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76), its decade-long desecration of antiquities and relics under Chairman Mao, and the effects of that obliteration via a gesture of both destruction and transformation.