Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads Hits Phillips Auction Block

Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (2010)
Photo: Phillips

Ai Weiwei’s famous Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (2010) will hit the auction block at Phillips London’s Contemporary Art Evening sale on February 12. The group of gold-plated bronze sculptures, number seven of an edition of eight, has a presale estimate of £2–3 million.

Ai’s sculptures are based on the zodiac clock-fountain that once graced the gardens of the Beijing palace of the Emperor Qianlong, which was destroyed and looted in 1860 by French and British troops. Only seven of the twelve figures are still known to exist. And, while five have been repatriated to China, ownership of the remaining two is still contested.

“I think it’s a good idea to have a complete set: these seven that exist and the five that are unknown. Without twelve, it’s not a zodiac,” Ai said in 2011. “So [the idea was] first, to complete it, and [more importantly,] to complete the way I think it should be.”

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads was recently on view in the UK as part of the inaugural exhibition of Blenheim Art Foundation. In it, a group of 30 Ai Weiwei works were embedded in the opulent rooms and among the lush artworks and decorations of Blenheim Palace (see Ai Weiwei Takes Over Downton Abbey-esque Estate). In September 2015, Ai will have his first major institutional survey in the UK, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London (see Ai Weiwei Coming to London Show).

The outdoor iteration of Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, in which the sculptures are larger and bronze, not gilded, is currently on display in Chicago, outside the Alder Planetarium (see Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads Kept Under Wraps in Chicago).

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