AI Weiwei (born 1957, Beijing, China), Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, 2010. Bronze, variable dimensions. Private Lender, L2017:89

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads

December 01, 2017 to June 24, 2018

The “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” series is internationally-acclaimed artist AI Weiwei ’s reinterpretation of the twelve bronze animal heads representing the traditional Chinese zodiac that once adorned the famed fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan (Old Summer Palace), an imperial retreat outside Beijing. Ai Weiwei created this body of work in two sizes: the bronze monumental series and the gold collector series. The “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Bronze” series is the artist’s first major public sculpture project. The work will be on view in the JSMA’s North Courtyard through June 24.

Designed in the eighteenth century by two European Jesuits serving in the Qing-dynasty (1644-1911) court of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799, ruled 1735-99), the twelve zodiac animal heads originally functioned as a water clockfountain in the magnificent European-style gardens of the Old Summer Palace. In 1860, the Yuanming Yuan was ransacked by French and British troops, and the animal heads were pillaged. By recreating and re-contextualizing these objects on an oversized scale, Ai Weiwei focuses attention on issues of looting and repatriation, while extending his ongoing exploration of the “fake” and the “copy” in relation to the original—encouraging open discourse on these complex topics.

Ai Weiwei’s bronze and gold “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” series have been exhibited at more than forty international venues and seen by millions of people since the official launch of this body of work in New York City in 2011, making this one of the most viewed sculpture projects in the history of contemporary art.