Ai Weiwei: Circle Of Animals Zodiac Heads

by | 24. Aug 2012

Exhibitions and Events

The Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is the first major public sculpture by Chinese contemporary artist and architectural designer Ai Weiwei.


Photo © AW Asia Ai Weiwei reaching for the Dog Zodiac Head at the bronze foundry in Chengdu, China.

The installation is comprised of twelve monumental bronze animal heads that are re-creations of the famous traditional zodiac sculptures that once adorned the fountain clock of Yuan Ming Yuan, the Old Summer Palace, located just outside Beijing.


Photo: Ding Musa © AW Asia

The Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is installed outdoors next to the Resnick Pavilion and the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, both by Renzo Piano.


Photo: arcspace


Photo: arcspace The Rabbit in the foreground.


Photo: arcspace The Snake and Horse

Cast around 1750, the original animal heads were located at the Zodiac fountain in Yuan Ming Yuan’s European-style gardens, which were designed by two European Jesuit priests in the eighteenth century. In 1860, British and French troops looted the heads amid the destruction of Yuan Ming Yuan during the Second Opium War.


Photo: Maria Kiang, 2007 The destroyed Yuan Ming Yuan (The Garden of Absolute Clarity). The original fountain where the twelve zodiac animal heads existed before being looted.


Image courtesy AI Weiwei Yuan Ming Yuan (The Garden of Absolute Clarity) “before and after” composition.

Today, seven heads – the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, horse, monkey, and boar – have been found; the location of the other five – dragon, snake, ram, rooster, and dog – are unknown. In reinterpreting these objects on an oversized scale, Ai stimulates dialogue about the fate of artworks that exist within dynamic and sometimes volatile cultural and political settings, while extending his ongoing exploration of the “fake” and the copy in relation to the original.


Photo: arcspace The Rooster


Photo: arcspace The Monkey


Photo: arcspace The Ram


Photo: arcspace The Dragon

For Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, the twelve heads are cast bronze and positioned on bronze bases, with each head and base together standing approximately ten feet high. Each head weighs approximately 800 pounds and measures approximately four feet high and three feet wide.


Photo: arcspace The Rat


Photo: arcspace The Boar

Ai Weiwei is known for his engagement with Chinese history as a shifting site rather than a static body of knowledge. His adaptations of objects from the Chinese material canon going back to antiquity, such as furniture and ceramic objects, are known for their subversive wit, twisting traditional meanings toward new purposes often by destroying the artifact in its original, pure state.

In April 2011 LACMA’s 26th Annual Collectors Committee acquired Ai Weiwei’s spherical wooden structure, Untitled (Divine Proportion). 2006.


Photo: Giovanni Tarifeno, courtesy of Friedman Benda and the artist.

Ai Weiwei was born in Beijing in 1957 and is the son of acclaimed poet Ai Qing, one of the country’s finest modernist poets. Ai Qing’s work appeared in nearly every literature textbook until he was branded a rightist and exiled to the countryside. Ai Weiwei’s birthright was simultaneously one of a cultural insider and a political outsider.

In 1978 Ai Weiwei became an early member of The Stars (Xing Xing), one of the first avant-garde art groups in modern China. In 1981, he moved to New York where he gained attention for his artwork that was based on transforming everyday objects into conceptual works. Returning to China in 1993, the artist cofounded the Chinese Art Archive & Warehouse, a non-profit gallery in Beijing where he still serves as director.

Ai Weiwei is a global artist with a global vision. He is one of the most transformative figures of our time. Truly a special person…
/Larry Warsh ( friend and collaborative partner )

In 2002 Ai Weiwei invited 16 architects from around the world to design a pavilion for a park on a ribbon of land that stretches over 2 kilometers along the Yiwu River. Jinhua Architecture Park is dedicated to the memory of his father who was born in Jinhua. The 17th pavilion, designed by Ai Weiwei, is a small museum to hold Chinese ancient pottery.

The exhibition will be on view though February 12, 2012.


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