Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
There’s a pile of sunflower seeds on sale at Sotheby’s upcoming February 15 Contemporary Art Evening Auction, and it’s going for an equally large pile of money. How does $120,000 for 100 kilograms of seeds sound? But these aren’t just any seeds: they’re the same hand-crafted porcelain replicas that Chinese artist Ai Weiwei had made for his Turbine Hall installation. The real joke is that a (presumably) fake version of the artist’s work is up on Taobao, the Chinese version of eBay, for only $.25 per seed. Get ’em while they’re hot and dusty!
A listing on the consistently reliable Chinese website, known for its ability to purvey fakes of any kind, from sunglasses to software, has a price of 1.50 RMB, or USD .25, for a single imitation sunflower seed. The user states that the seeds on sale are “handmade in Jingdezhen,” the same town that Ai Weiwei enlisted for its famed porcelain production. These fake seeds could easily be made in Jingdezhen by the same craftsmen or other workshops in the town, but that’s not necessarily to be believed, either. Still, it’s a pretty good deal, and shipping (in China at least) is only another $1.50 USD.
The Taobao ad even ends with a hilariously careful warning that the porcelain seeds “aren’t to be allowed within the reach of children or the elderly, since they can easily be mistaken for the real foodstuff.”
We have another warning for any prospective collectors though, whether it’s through Sotheby’s or Taobao. The buyer better be sure that they’re not breathing in the seeds’ toxic ceramic dust, an unforeseen consequence that forced the roping off of the Tate’s exhibition. So no Scarface-style sunflower snorting allowed.
While you may have missed your chance to grab some of Ai’s seeds for free, the Taobao version should be within all collectors’ budgets. Sotheby’s February 15 sale also features works by such luminaries of contemporary art as Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Gerhard Richter and is expected to bring in sales of as much as $48 million. Way too rich for my blood, but $1.50 I can handle.