Ai Weiwei’s Wooden Map of China Continues to Stir the Heat at Sotheby’s Autumn Sale

Map of China (2008 to 2009), Ai Weiwei, Courtesy Sotheby's
Map of China (2008 to 2009), Ai Weiwei, Courtesy Sotheby’s
TIANANMEN NO. 3 (1993), Zhang Xiaogang, Courtesy Sotheby’s
Asia Society Hong Kong

This autumn, three important works, including one of Ai Weiwei’s famous sculptures, will make their auction debut

at the anticipated Sotheby’s Hong Kong Contemporary Asian Art Sale.

Text: Tim Cheung
Image Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Map of China (2008 to 2009), Ai Weiwei, Courtesy Sotheby's
Map of China (2008 to 2009), Ai Weiwei, Courtesy Sotheby’s

More than 250 lots, estimated in excess of HKD 230 million, will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Contemporary Asian Art Autumn Sale on 4 and 5 October at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Among them is Ai Weiwei’s fresh-to-market sculpture – an elegant protest to political and ethnic issues in China – Map of China (HKD 6.5 – 10 million), which is considered one of his greatest achievements of the furniture series.

What the 58-year-old Chinese provocateur-artist is great at is how, it seems, he is doing just enough with his artworks to stir up a maelstrom in his audience’s mind. Map is at once singular and complex, and it goes to show the artist’s amazing breadth of creative genius.

Unlike his famous photographic triptych (Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 2005), or his one-finger-salute series to political powers (Study in Perspective, 1995 – 2003), Ai’s Map of China is a less brazen, and more poignant, approach to reexamine the conflicting relationship between economic development and the destruction of traditional culture in China. It also reflects his obsessions in toying with national iconography – he would later create a map of China using 1,800 tins of milk powder (Baby Formula, 2013) and porcelain puzzle (Free Speech, 2014) – and “recycling” antique objects.

Created in the years of 2008 and 2009, Map of China was crafted from tielimu (ironwood) salvaged from demolished temples of Qing Dynasty, and was reconstructed using the ancient mortise-and-tenon joinery technique to create a full map of China, including Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hainan Island.

The smooth surface, which represents a seemingly modernised and unified China, resembles a jigsaw-puzzle-like arrangement of heterogeneous pieces. It is a symbol of China’s cultural and ethnic diversity, a sensitive topic that has resulted in violence and civil estrangement in recent years. It asserts that while modern China remains distinctly singular, it is a blend, sometimes collision, of 1.3 billion individuals, a mosaic of pieces from its past. Not only does it arouse nostalgia by way of traditional processes, but it also lends a new life to the forgotten woodwork.

On this approach, Ai commented, “We are moving too fast, but memories are something that we can still grasp. Memories also move around at high speeds, so they are the easiest things to which we can commit.”

Ai’s Map, therefore, challenges us to rethink the beginning of the complex nation, how it has managed to survive for thousands of years, and how it can be maintained as one. It is exemplary of how the creative process in Ai’s work matters as much as what is being saved and remade.

TIANANMEN NO. 3 (1993), Zhang Xiaogang, Courtesy Sotheby's
TIANANMEN NO. 3 (1993), Zhang Xiaogang, Courtesy Sotheby’s

Other featured auction debuts include Kusama Yayoi’s large-scale early painting No. Red B (HKD 30 – 40 mils) and Zhang Xiaogang’s Tiananmen No. 3 (HKD 18 – 25 mils). A total of 26 artworks, including the famous Taichi Series, by the Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming are also among the headliners at the auction. Lastly, Sotheby’s is also introducing the first ever sale dedicated to the late Japanese Gutai artist Yoshihara Jiro, Full Circle — Yoshihara Jiro Collection.

The complete Sotheby’s Hong Kong Autumn 2015 sale takes place from 2 October to 7 October 2015, with sales ranging from fine wines and important watches to ink paintings and contemporary art.

Sotheby’s Hong Kong Autumn Auction

Dates: 2 – 7 October 2015
Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre


Tim Cheung‘s stories, covering lifestyle and arts, food and culture, have appeared in Hong Kong Tatler, Blouin ArtInfo, Time Out Hong Kong and CNN Travel. He was graduated from the University of Toronto, and he later earned a master’s degree from the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism school. He is now the editor of handy, a mobile platform for travelers.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply