Weiwei sells artwork for €604,000 to meet potential tax bill


CONTROVERSIAL CHINESE artist Ai Weiwei has sold a ton of the porcelain sunflower seeds he displayed at the Tate Modern gallery in London for €604,000, a record sum for his work, which should help to pay his tax bill if an appeal does not go his way.

The sackful of hand-painted seeds is one of an edition of 10 and is accompanied by a certificate signed by the artist.

Earlier this week, a court in Beijing accepted Ai’s legal action against a 15 million yuan (€1.84 million) tax evasion penalty the government levied against the company that markets his work.

The seeds were originally displayed in the turbine hall at the Tate Modern before the installation had to be shut down when dust from the tiny ceramic pebbles posed health concerns for visitors.

Ai, who collaborated with Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron on designing the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing, was detained in March 2011 and held for almost three months. He was released without charges.

His activism has long irritated the authorities, but Ai is a cultural blueblood in China, the son of revered poet and Communist Party member Ai Qing and his wife, Gao Ying.

After he was freed, authorities handed him the bill for back taxes they said were owed by the company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd, which is controlled by his wife. He said the the tax bill was “a joke” meant to cover for the fact that his detention was entirely politically motivated.

His supporters donated huge amounts of money to help him pay a guarantee needed to challenge the charge, some of them throwing cash gifts into the courtyard of his Beijing studio home.

The artist plans to make every aspect of his appeal public, to allow people to judge for themselves whether he was right or wrong. “Every detail will be posted on the internet and it will be a part of history,” he said.

Also this week, Ai reunited with Herzog de Meuron to show their design for a sunken pavilion in the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens in London. The artist and the architects communicated via Skype because Ai is not allowed to leave Beijing.