Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is internationally renowned for work that defies the distinction between art and activism. In this installation, Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads: Gold, Ai Weiwei has reinterpreted the twelve bronze animal heads representing the traditional Chinese zodiac that once adorned the famed fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat in Beijing. Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads is the artist’s first major public sculpture project.
Designed in the 18th century by two European Jesuits serving in the court of the Qing dynasty Emperor Qianlong, the twelve zodiac animal heads originally functioned as a water clock-fountain, located in the magnificent European-style gardens of the Yuanming Yuan. In 1860, the Yuanming Yuan was ransacked by French and British troops, and the heads were pillaged. In re-interpreting these objects on an oversized scale, Ai Weiwei focuses attention on questions of looting and repatriation, while extending his ongoing exploration of the ‘fake’ and the copy in relation to the original.
The Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads: Gold series has been exhibited worldwide since the official launch of the Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads sculpture project in New York City at the historic Pulitzer Fountain at Grand Army Plaza in May 2011.