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AI WEIWEI'S CIRCLE OF ANIMALS/ZODIAC HEADS: GOLD

December 20th, 2014 – May 31st, 2015
Palm Springs Art Museum

Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold, a group of sculptures by the Chinese artist/provocateur. The installation consists of 12 gold gilded bronze heads – a rat, an ox, a tiger, a rabbit, a dragon, a snake a horse, a sheep, a monkey, a rooster, a dog, and a pig - each a representative symbol from the Chinese zodiac. The heads measure between approximately 20 and 30 inches high and are based on twelve zodiac heads originally located at the Yuanming Yuan (Old Summer Palace), a monumental complex of gardens and palaces northeast of Beijing that was destroyed by fire in October of 1860 by British and French troops. Ai Weiwei has attempted to recreate a set of zodiac heads that were once part of an ornate clock and fountain on the grounds of the destroyed Summer Palace. The original heads had been made by Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), an Italian Jesuit who, while living in China executed a number of commissions for the Chinese emperor in the 18th century.

Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold, a group of sculptures by the Chinese artist/provocateur. The installation consists of 12 gold gilded bronze heads – a rat, an ox, a tiger, a rabbit, a dragon, a snake a horse, a sheep, a monkey, a rooster, a dog, and a pig - each a representative symbol from the Chinese zodiac. The heads measure between approximately 20 and 30 inches high and are based on twelve zodiac heads originally located at the Yuanming Yuan (Old Summer Palace), a monumental complex of gardens and palaces northeast of Beijing that was destroyed by fire in October of 1860 by British and French troops. Ai Weiwei has attempted to recreate a set of zodiac heads that were once part of an ornate clock and fountain on the grounds of the destroyed Summer Palace. The original heads had been made by Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), an Italian Jesuit who, while living in China executed a number of commissions for the Chinese emperor in the 18th century.

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold is a work about freedom of imagination and the persistence of ideas. The heads display some striking stylistic discontinuities. The sheep, for example, is credible, almost naturalistic. Another head, the monkey, has a streamlined brow and stylized round eyes. The snarling, antlered dragon is instantly identifiable as the characteristic mythical animal of ancient China. Their immaculate gilded surfaces raise questions about authenticity—Ai Weiwei always keeps us questioning, such is the nature of his art.

Daniell Cornell, The Donna and Cargill MacMillan Jr. Director of Art, states: “Acting as commentary on national histories and traditions, Ai Weiwei’s “Zodiac Heads” reveal how objects cross cultural boundaries to develop hybrid meanings. In them, political, social, and cultural understandings from past and present intersect to create aesthetic value. In this way, they suggest the complicated and often contradictory process that underlies interpretation within a museum setting. At the same time, as contemporary creations, they provide a witty commentary on the incorporation of well-known symbols and common customs into new artworks.”

Ai Weiwei (born 1957 in Beijing, China) is a contemporary artist who works in a range of media including sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, photography, film, and social, political, and cultural criticism. He collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics (known as the “Birds Nest”). As a political activist, he has been openly critical of the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, and was held for 81 days at an undisclosed location in 2011.. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry he is currently prohibited from leaving Beijing without permission.

This exhibition is organized by Palm Springs Art Museum, on loan courtesy of a Private Collection and sponsored by Heather James Fine Art.