Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads Come to Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The famous work will be stationary and on view for an entire year at the YSP.

Ai Weiwei with Dog (detail), Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, 2010. Courtesy the artist.
Ai Weiwei with Dog (detail), Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, 2010. Courtesy the artist.

For its 40th anniversary, the first sculpture park in the United Kingdom, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, will present Ai Weiwei‘s most traveled and internationally known work Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (2010) for an entire year, starting from April 8, 2017 and running until April 22, 2018.

The massive work features 12 bronze animal heads that represent the traditional Chinese zodiac and have been touring internationally since 2011. The work takes its cue from the original 12 animals created for the fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, Beijing’s summer palace. Only seven of the original heads have been found and returned to China with the rest still lost to looters in the 1860 Second Opium War by the British and French.

<i>Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads</i>, 2010. ©Princeton. Courtesy the artist.

Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, 2010. ©Princeton. Courtesy the artist.

The sculptures represent transformations by way of exile, migration, and intentional change of geographical location. The artist himself has been forced into exile in his childhood, and in 2011, as a result of his critique of the Chinese government, Ai was arrested and detained for 81 days without proper charge and had his passport confiscated until July 2015.

During this period, each head was hooded in solidarity with the artist’s persecution and in protest of China’s treatment of human rights.

The impressive artwork also brings into conversation the politics of ownership, history, repatriation, and legitimacy; taking on a somewhat playful tone, however, it also emphasizes accessibility as an important ideal to the artist.

“I want this to be seen as an object that doesn’t have a monumental quality, but rather is a funny piece… people can relate to or interpret on many different levels, because everybody has a zodiac connection.”

Standing at an impressive three meters high and weighing 363 kilograms, an indoor-friendly, gold-plated iteration of Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (2010) sold for a whopping $4.4 million dollars at auction in February 2015.

The presentation adds on to an existing series by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on migration and human freedom with works by Shirin Neshat (2011), Yinka Shonibare (2013), and Amar Kanwar (2013). Ai is a familiar component to Yorkshire Sculpture Park with his sculpture Iron Tree already included in the park as its renovated chapel opened to an installation by the artist in 2014.


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