Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold Presented at the Portland Art Museum Courtesy of Heather James Fine Art

  • PALM DESERT, California
  • /
  • April 24, 2015

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Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold (detail: Dragon), 2010, Bronze with gold patina, Dimensions variable. Private Collection. Images courtesy of Ai Weiwei.

Heather James Fine Art is pleased to announce the loan of Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold (2010) and its sponsorship of the exhibition on view at the Portland Art Museum from May 23 through September 13.

The installation consists of a dozen gold-gilt bronze sculptures representing the animal symbols from the traditional Chinese zodiac. The artist Ai Weiwei has created two series which have toured internationally: a monumental outdoor bronze edition and a smaller-scaled gold edition for display indoors. The artist drew inspiration for the twelve heads from those originally located at Yuanming Yuan (Old Summer Palace), an imperial retreat of palaces and European-style gardens built outside of Beijing in the 18th and 19th centuries by Emperor Qianlong. Designed and engineered by two European Jesuits, Giuseppe Castiglione and Michel Benoist, the heads originally functioned as an ornate fountain clock that would spout water at two-hour intervals.

Once accessible only to the elite of 18th-century Chinese society, the garden was destroyed and looted by Anglo-French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War, displacing the original zodiac heads. While seven of the heads are known to exist, (Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Horse, Monkey, and Pig), five have been repatriated to China and the ownership of two remains contested. Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold engages issues of looting, repatriation, and cultural heritage while expanding upon ongoing themes in Ai’s work of the “fake” and “copy” in relation to the original.

Ai Weiwei (born 1957, Beijing, China) is a renowned contemporary artist, architectural designer, and social activist who employs a wide range of media. He has been openly critical of the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and record of human rights violations, 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.

Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold, 2010, Bronze with gold patina, Dimensions variable. Private Collection. Images courtesy of Ai Weiwei.

Created in 2010, Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads collection consists of 2 sets.  The installation on view at the Portland Art Museum is one of eight smaller gold-plated editions with four artist’s proofs, intended for interior display and between 20 and 30 inches in height. Another set was produced as large editions in bronze, almost 10 feet high and intended for outdoor display. The sculptures were showcased at the Pulitzer Fountain at Grand Army Plaza, New York, in May 2011, and since that time they’ve been displayed in museums and other sites around the world, including National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia; Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin; and The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego.

Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold, 2010, bronze with gold patina, (c) Images courtesy of Ai Weiwei's studio 2014

“We’re delighted to present this important work by one of the world’s leading contemporary artists,” said Brian Ferriso, The Marilyn H. and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Director. “Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals reflects the Museum’s commitment to the art of today, and it furthers our mission of bringing the world to Oregon. Ai Weiwei’s work reveals layers of history while bringing attention to current economic, political and collecting issues.”

The Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold builds on a strong run of contemporary art exhibitions at the Portland Art Museum. In 2014, the Portland Art Museum was the first museum in North America to exhibit Richard Mosse’s groundbreaking installation, The Enclave. Recent exhibitions in the Contemporary Art Series funded by the Miller Meigs Endowment for Contemporary Art have focused on significant artists including Mike Kelley (2012), Cindy Sherman (2012), Sherrie Levine (2013), and Joel Shapiro (2014).

This exhibition is presented at the Portland Art Museum courtesy of Heather James Fine Art, and curated by Brian J. Ferriso, The Marilyn H. and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Director. Sponsors include Heather Sacre and James Carona, Miller Meigs Endowment for Contemporary Art, Jim and Susan Winkler.

For additional information about the Portland Art Museum call 503-226-2811 or visit

Heather James Fine Art has two galleries, one in Palm Desert, California, and the other in Jackson, Wyoming. The galleries feature a wide array of art ranging from Impressionist and Modern art to Post-War and Contemporary, American, Latin American, Old Master, Photography and Design. For more information about the gallery and upcoming exhibitions, visit or contact the gallery at 760-346-8926.

Chris Clemens
FG Creative

Heather James Fine Art
45188 Portola Avenue
Palm Desert, California
About Heather James Fine Art

With two fantastic galleries, located in Palm Desert, California and Jackson, Wyoming, Heather James Fine Art offers a rare look into art history’s past and present. Focusing on a wide breadth of genres including cultural art and antiquities, Impressionist and Modern, Post-War and Contemporary, American and Latin American, Old Masters, cutting-edge Contemporary and Photography, the gallery showcases blue chip and cutting edge contemporary art while still maintaining a respect for the integrity of antiquity and classical masterpieces. For more information, please visit

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