KMA exhibit will be Chinese artist's only showing in U.S.

'Kui Hua Zi' by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is the porcelain reproduction of one ton of sunflower seeds, a popular snack in China. It part of the exhibit 'Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn' opening May 13 at the Knoxville Museum of Art.

"Kui Hua Zi" by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is the porcelain reproduction of one ton of sunflower seeds, a popular snack in China. It part of the exhibit "Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn" opening May 13 at the Knoxville Museum of Art.

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The Knoxville Museum of Art's latest exhibit, "Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn," places the museum in a position of international recognition.

The exhibit of ceramics and photographs opens today. It's the only museum display of the renowned Chinese artist's works in the United States.

When "Dropping the Urn" completes its Knoxville run on Aug. 7, it will go to London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

But showing "Dropping the Urn" now doesn't only make the Knoxville museum unique because the exhibit itself is here.

It also puts the museum on the fringe of international news.

That's because Ai, 53, isn't only a well-known Chinese contemporary artist. He's also been a critic of the Chinese government. And he's currently jailed in China. He's been in detention since authorities in early April prevented him from boarding a flight from Beijing to Hong Kong.

"Dropping the Urn" was organized by Arcadia University in Pennsylvania. Some of its objects belong to Ai, others to collectors.

Like much of Ai's work, the exhibit asks viewers to consider how China has dealt with its culture and history and the influences of the Western world upon it.

The exhibit includes ceramics created by Ai from 1993 to 2010 based on classic Chinese forms and colors as well as Neolithic and Han Dynasty pieces the artist re-created into contemporary pieces. Han Dynasty vases are coated with industrial paint; a 7,000-year-old urn bears Ai's painting of the red Coca-Cola logo. A large, clean glass jar holds the dust of ground Neolithic pottery.

But the most striking part of the exhibit may be its one-ton pile of porcelain sunflower seeds.

Each porcelain piece is the size of a real sunflower seed and was handmade by workers in a Chinese town known for 1,700 years for its porcelain production.

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