LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art
is displaying the first major public sculpture by Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei, titled Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads. The installation comprises 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. For LACMAs presentation, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is on view outdoors just east of the museums Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion.
Cast around 1750, the original animal heads were located at the Zodiac fountain in Yuan Ming Yuans 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. Today, seven headsthe rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, horse, monkey, and boarhave been found; the location of the other fivedragon, snake, goat, rooster, and dogare 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. 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.
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. At LACMA, Ais investigation of the historical object finds great resonance within the museums encyclopedic collection, which includes Chinese art from the Neolithic to the Qing Dynasty period. Among the museums collection are four jade zodiac animals, contemporaneous with the Yuan Ming Yuan gardens, which will be concurrently on view with Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads beginning in December 2011. Although of much smaller scale, each jade piece is in the shape of an animal head on top of a human body, just like those that originally adorned the Zodiac fountain.
Prior to LACMAs presentation, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads debuted at the São Paulo Biennial, and then began its international tour, traveling to the Pulitzer Fountain at the Grand Army Plaza in Central Park, New York (May 2July 15, 2011) and the Somerset House in London (May 11June 26, 2011). Following its display at LACMA, the work will also be on view at Hermann Park, Houston, Texas (spring 2012); the Warhol Museum and Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (October 1December 31, 2012); and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (fall 2012).