Lot 120
  • 120

Ai Weiwei

250,000 - 350,000 GBP
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  • Ai Weiwei
  • Surveillance Camera
  • marble
  • 39.2 by 39.8 by 19 cm. 15 1/2 by 15 5/8 by 7 1/2 in.
  • Executed in 2010, this work is unique.


Frahm & Frahm, London (acquired from the artist)
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Extremely close inspection reveals some light handling marks in places to the extreme outer edges. Further close inspection reveals a tiny and unobtrusive nick to a corner to the front of the camera, and a thin scratch the left vertical element underneath the front of the camera. Close inspection reveal a small yellow stain to the left side of the sculpture.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

“Marble is of course a very important and rich material in art history. It tends to be the conventional material of monuments. I suppose you could say that the grass, the pushchair, the surveillance cameras are all part of a tradition of antimonuments as well: they’re both monuments and antimonuments at the same time.”


in conversation with Tim Marlow in: Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, Ai Weiwei, September - December 2015, p. 27

Rendered in white marble, Surveillance Camera is an iconic work from Ai Weiwei’s influential practice that succinctly captures his social commentary on contemporary society. Bringing together two historically distant traditions –the ancient practice of marble sculpture and modern camera surveillance –it captures the artist’s interest in cross-cultural connections as a statement on life in the 21st century.

Hand-carved from a single piece of white marble, Surveillance Camera reflects Ai Weiwei’s fascination with the way in which history has shaped modern life –and more importantly, as it is currently shaping our future. Having been subjected to intense surveillance himself, the artist is deeply familiar with the dark side of contemporary technology and the way it is used as a tool to exercise control. This iconic symbol of undercover surveillance, which is usually hidden out of sight yet omnipresent in cities throughout the world, is here elevated to an object of extreme significance –to be considered on the same footing as historical figures whose influence was commemorated through marble busts.

This profound interest in (material) history is highly typical for Ai Weiwei, who treats it as a recurring medium in his oeuvre. As the artist explains: “Tradition is only a readymade. It’s for us to make a new gesture –to use it as a reference, more as a starting point than conclusion. Of course, there are very different attitudes and interpretations about our past and our memory of it. And ours is never a complete one, but is broken. In China, but also in my practice.” (Ai Weiwei cited in: Larry Warsh, ed., Weiwei-isms, Princeton 2013, p. 80).

Inspired by the appropriative work of Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp, Ai Weiwei freely uses historical materials to comment on the present. Carving the product of a highly digitalised society in a material that is in many ways the opposite of contemporary technology not only renders it useless, but forces us to stand still and reflect on the assumed function of the object.

The ability to capture a profound commentary on complex social issues in a powerful visual statement is one of Ai Weiwei’s strengths –and indeed one of the traits that he shares with Andy Warhol. Perfectly encapsulating the artist’s clever visual language, which amalgamates historical traditions with modern technology, Surveillance Camera is a highly accomplished work that presents its social concerns with the conceptual and visual elegance that has made Ai Weiwei one of the most acclaimed artists of his generation.