Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals: Gold, 2010. Image courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio
June 1-December 15, 2019
The museum is pleased to present Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold (2010), which will be on view in Stark Rotunda. Ai Weiwei (born 1957, Beijing, China) is a renowned contemporary artist, architectural designer, and social activist who employs a wide range of media. The display consists of a dozen gilded bronze sculptures representing the animal symbols of the traditional Chinese zodiac. Ai Weiwei was inspired by 12 zodiac heads originally located at Yuanming Yuan (Old Summer Palace), an imperial retreat of palaces and European-style gardens built in the 18th and 19th centuries outside of Beijing. Designed and engineered by two European Jesuits, Giuseppe Castiglione and Michel Benoit, the heads originally functioned as an ornate fountain clock that would spout water at two-hour intervals for the pleasure of their elite audiences. In 1860, Anglo-French troops looted the original zodiac heads during the Second Opium War. The seven heads known to exist (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, horse, monkey, and boar) have been returned to China. Ai Weiwei based seven of his sculptures on these originals while the remaining five (dragon, snake, goat, rooster, and dog) are the artist’s reimagining of the missing sculptures.
Circle of Animals/ Zodiac Heads: Gold engages issues of historical heritage and memory, cross-cultural influence, looting, nationalism, and repatriation. The display also addresses the ongoing theme of the “copy” in relation to the original in Ai Weiwei’s work. He states that each piece is “a copy of an original, but not an exact copy – something that has its own sensitive layer of languages, which are different, and that bears the mark of our time.”