“The controversy surrounding Weiwei has brought the already accomplished artist to the world’s attention, and this book, as well as the work it celebrates, are monuments to the persistence of history and art.”
From its fascinating historical origins to its contemporary symbolic significance, every aspect of Ai Weiwei’s beautiful and monumental work of art is explored in this illustrated volume that also guides readers through the highlights of the artist’s career.
Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads features twelve large-scale bronze animal heads, each depicting a segment of the ancient Chinese zodiac. As a major work of public art, it is an extraordinary accomplishment in its own right. But as this book explains, the origins and motivation behind the piece are as compelling as the work itself. Ai Weiwei based the sculpture on a complex zodiac fountain that was built for an imperial retreat in eighteenth-century China. When the retreat was looted by European soldiers, the fountain’s bronze animal heads were stolen – only seven of the twelve are known to survive. By reimagining the work Ai Weiwei confronts uncomfortable truths within Chinese and Western history.
With an introduction by the book’s editor, Susan Delson, Circle of Animals compares Ai Weiwei’s work to the original zodiac heads; features interviews with Ai Weiwei conducted at various periods during the sculpture’s development; offers a historical overview of the events surrounding the fountain’s looting; and follows the trail of the original heads as they are sold and resold amidst political furor. The book tells the riveting story behind a highly acclaimed piece of modern art, while providing an introduction to one of our generation’s most important artists.
“This exhibition catalog explores the 2010 monumental work Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, created by internationally acclaimed contemporary Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei. The work is a reimagining of a Qing dynasty zodiac water-clock system at the Old Summer Palace near Beijing, which was looted in 1850 during the Second Opium War. Ai reinterpreted the original fountainheads in a gold series and a bronze series, as his first monumental public art installation. Ai’s work explores ideas about authenticity and reproduction, examines how contemporary culture creates value, and focuses attention on the links between the appropriation of symbols and the representations of cultural identity and nationalist pride. Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads was the focal point of an international, multi-year touring exhibition that travelled the United States, Europe, and Asia. Ai was prevented from attending the exhibition after being detained by Chinese authorities for allegedly committing economic crimes, and remained under strict travel restrictions and heavy government surveillance until 2015.”
“The exhibition is accompanied by a publication Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads edited by Susan Delson that tells the riveting story behind a highly acclaimed piece of contemporary art, while providing an introduction to one of our generation’s most important artists.”
“The detainment of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in the spring of 2011 somewhat overshadowed the unveiling of the public masterpiece that was, and is, “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads”—a dozen statues depicting the heads of the various animals of the Chinese zodiac. The playful appearance of the work is entirely deliberate, as is the complex historical premise, a story brought to life in the pages of this book. Beijing’s Yuanming Yuan (“Garden of Perfect Brightness”) was the original home to twelve bronze heads, but looting in 1860 during the Opium Wars left only seven intact—the rest are still missing. Weiwei’s ambitiously crafted tribute acknowledges the annals of his nation’s past, confirming the notion that “historical references can invest even the most unassuming objects with layers of meaning.” Comprising three parts, the text is organized in the form of a “chronological arc,” beginning and ending in the present. “The result is a multifaceted, overlapping portrayal…Ai Weiwei, his art, [and] his engagement with history.” Interviews with the artist and essays by various contributors reveal his unique practices and philosophies, complemented by gorgeous photographic depictions of the individual heads and Weiwei’s unmistakably Duchampian contemporary works, as well as myriad examples of Chinese artworks of antiquity. The controversy surrounding Weiwei has brought the already accomplished artist to the world’s attention, and this book,as well as the work it celebrates, are monuments to the persistence of history and art. Color photos.”
February 20, 2012