a tale of a few cities

Ai Weiwei and the Five Finger Discount

Posted in appropriation, Art, auction, China, Conceptual Art, illustration, London, Painting, Sculpture by petercombe on July 19, 2011

Detail of Ai Wei Wei sunflower seeds from the Tate Modern in London

For the eleventh commission in the Tate Modern‘s Unilever Series, Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei had filled the museum’s Turbine Hall with millions of life-sized sunflower seed husks made out of porcelain. The collective effort of a number of specialists from Jingdezhen, China, the hand-crafted seeds were individually formed and painted. Before the museum was alerted to the installation’s dangers of lead paint and silica dust, visitors were encouraged to touch and walk on the carpet of tiny replicates. Before a barrier was erected around the perimeter of the installation, I wondered how many visitors were tempted to pilfer samples of the tiny seeds (see photo above). In February of this year Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening sale in London surpassed the $192,000 estimate, netting $559,394 for a 100-kilogram pile of Weiwei’s seeds. That puts worth of the stolen seeds pictured above at about $33.60.

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