New fantasy dinner party guests: Jake Chapman, Dinos Chapman and Ai Weiwei





Ok, my brain is fried, and I'll tell you why.

Once upon a time there was a man called Ai Weiwei, who came all the way from China. Art was his bag, so he gathered the funds to buy some Han dynasty urns.

In an act of appropriation art (which is essentially when an artist takes an existing artwork, changes it in some way, and calls it their own) he painted them and took pictures of himself dropping them onto the floor, so obviously they smashed. The pictures were blown up to a slightly larger than life triptych and became an artwork in their own right, called 'Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn'. If you were to look into the ideology behind this act/artwork, you might find a middle finger to Chinese history; and you might find one aimed at the Western misconception that all Chinese art is ancient.

Anyway, that was in 1995. Fast forward 17 years, and art collector Uli Sigg came into ownership of Coca Cola Urn, which was one of Ai's most famous works. He was filmed smashing it, and other than the whole scenario being slightly omg-is-the-art-collector-the-artist-now-or-what-argh-omg, no one really cared. Uli Sigg owned the artwork, so he was free to do with it what he pleased.

Ai Weiwei, Coca Cola Urn

The triptych 'Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn', which shows the photographs of Ai Weiwei's original act, forms part of a current exhibition at Perez Museum in Miami. The images sit alongside some more urns of Ai Weiwei's.

Ai Weiwei, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn

In walks local artist Maximo Caminero. He thinks to himself, 'Why is this gallery not promoting local talent? Why is it promoting a famous, foreign artist, when there are so many great artists on its doorstep, struggling to get on a plinth? I'm gunna do something about this.' So he picks up one of Ai Weiwei's urns, and he smashes it.

Maximo Caminero

Strike three to the Han dynasty urns; originally steeped in tradition and now vessels for comment on contemporary artistic practice.

Ok, but what does it all MEAN?

When someone owns an artwork, they can do with it what they wish (as represented by the fact that Ai Weiwei and Uli Sigg didn't get told off by the world when they smashed ancient urns). But when Maximo Caminero does it, he is branded a vandal. Fair enough, but the difference of right and wrong boils down to the concept of ownership, which is synonymous with commerce (Jonathon Jones has an interesting take on it - click here to read it). Does this mean Ai Weiwei is one of the few artists who believes in the traditional concept of ownership? He did condemn Caminero's act as destructive, after all.

So if someone ever says "all modern artists are the same" (because people insist on confusing 'modern art' with 'contemporary art'), give them the comparison of Ai Weiwei, who believes that in commerce lies power, and it's good; and The Chapman Brothers, who believe that in commerce lies power, and it is bad bad bad (click here to read 75 brilliant words about the piece below).

The Chapman Brothers

New fantasy dinner party guests: Jake Chapman, Dinos Chapman and Ai Weiwei. Fight it out boys, but play nicely.

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