One of the world’s leading political artists reinterprets a cultural and political remnant of China’s past
This summer, dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s monumental sculpture, Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads adds a compelling new layer to Carnegie Museum of Art’s magnificent Hall of Architecture. Comprising 12 bronze animal heads representing the traditional Chinese zodiac, Ai’s work reimagines those that once adorned the famed fountain-clock of Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat in Beijing destroyed by the British in 1860. It debuted on the world stage in 2011 shortly after the artist, an outspoken critic of the communist regime, had been detained by Chinese authorities and held for 80 days.
Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads pays homage to China’s history while speaking to contemporary concerns. “It’s about the future and the past, and how China is looked at today and how it looks at itself,” explains the artist. “It has many, many different layers—is it art or not art, and to what degree?”
The expansive Hall of Architecture houses one of the few remaining cast collections in the world, filled with reproductions of classical facades and fragments from throughout the Western world. Likewise, Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads reinterprets a cultural and political remnant of China’s past. Together they create a one-of-a-kind immersive experience that brings together past and present, and underscores how cultural histories are retold.
This presentation complements the concurrent Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei exhibition at The Andy Warhol Museum.