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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Colored Vases

Photo: Nathaniel Willson

Colored Vases


Ai Weiwei

Chinese, born 1957

Chinese archaeological artifacts are often venerated as a bridge connecting the nation’s history and culture from the earliest times to the present. Destroying such symbols amounts to a desecration, but Ai Weiwei has done so repeatedly, with glee, by coating earthen pots with brightly colored, dripping industrial paint. It is unclear whether these pots are in fact from China’s Han dynasty. According to Ai, their original surfaces, now obscured, are much like history, which is “no longer visible but is still there.”

Ai’s iconoclasm asks us to confront the values that we hold to be true in our conversations with the past. The artist has also cut up Ming dynasty furniture, reforming them as sculptures; painted Coca-Cola logos on other “ancient” vases; and dropped vases to record their destruction. Is this loss or transformation? Is he defacing or exalting the art?

Ceramic with industrial paint
Dimensions variable, each approx.: 17 x 22 in. (43.2 x 55.9 cm)
Robert M. Shields Fund for Asian Ceramics
Provenance: The artist; [Mary Boone Gallery, New York, 2013]; purchased from gallery by Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 2013
Photo: Nathaniel Willson
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art, Feb. 8, 2020 - ongoing [on view Feb. 8, 2020 - Nov. 28, 2021].

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Beyond the Mountain: Contemporary Chinese Artists on the Classical Forms, July 22, 2022 - ongoing.
Published ReferencesUpchurch, Michael. "'Conceal/Reveal' at Seattle Asian Art Museum." Seattle Times, January 2, 2015,

Foong, Ping, Xiaojin Wu, and Darielle Mason. "An Asian Art Museum Transformed." Orientations vol. 51, no. 3 (May/June 2020): pp. 50-51, reproduced fig. 8; p. 68, reproduced fig. 28 (installation view).

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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