Update: The official unveiling has been rescheduled to Wednesday morning, May 4.
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, the first major public art sculpture by celebrated contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, was supposed to make its outdoor debut on May 2 in New York at the historic Pulitzer Fountain in Grand Army Plaza, the gateway to Central Park. Mayor Bloomberg's office sent out a statement on Monday saying that the official unveiling would be delayed, a decision made due to news of Osama bin Laden's death. (See Zodiac Heads on Twitter for updates.)
The dissident artist himself will not be in attendance. Ai Weiwei has not been seen since Chinese authorities detained him at the Beijing airport on April 3.
Comprised of 12 monumental bronze animal heads, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads was inspired by the fabled fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, an 18th-century imperial retreat just outside Beijing. Following its exhibition in New York City, the sculpture will be displayed around the world.
“It is innovative and thought-provoking exhibits like Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads that keep New York one of the world’s great places to live, work and visit,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “And as we continue to showcase the best art exhibits and attractions, we maintain our status as the cultural capital of the world. I am proud that New York is host to this monumental work by Ai Weiwei, before it travels the rest of the globe.”
Presented by the Chinese contemporary art organization AW Asia in cooperation with the City of New York, the public exhibition will be on view from May (a new opening date will be announced) to July 15, 2011. This marks the first time an art installation has been presented at the famous Pulitzer Fountain.
Designed in the 18th century by two European Jesuits at the behest of the Manchu Emperor Qianlong, the fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan featured the animals of the Chinese zodiac, each spouting water at two-hour intervals. In 1860, the Yuanming Yuan was ransacked by French and British troops, and the heads were pillaged. Today, seven heads – the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, horse, monkey and boar – have been located; the whereabouts of the other five are unknown.
In re-interpreting these objects on an oversized scale, Ai Weiwei focuses attention on questions of looting and repatriation while extending his ongoing exploration of the “fake” and the copy in relation to the original. The 12 heads are cast bronze and positioned on bronze bases. Each head weighs approximately 800 pounds and measures approximately 4 feet high and 3 feet wide. The head and base together are approximately 10 feet high.
“My work is always dealing with real or fake, authenticity and value and how value relates to current political and social understandings and misunderstandings,” said Ai Weiwei. “However, because Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is composed of animal heads, it’s a work that everyone can understand, including children and people who are not in the art world. I think it’s more important to show your work to the public. That’s what I really care about.”
“We are very proud to be able to present Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads by Ai Weiwei to New Yorkers and visitors from around the world this spring and summer,” said Larry Warsh, founder of AW Asia. “Circle of Animals is accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds while, at the same time, it raises intriguing questions about art itself. The artist has a great fondness for New York, having lived here in the 1980s, so Grand Army Plaza by Central Park is a fitting place from which to launch this world tour.”
“We are thrilled to welcome Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads to Central Park’s Grand Army Plaza,” said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “This installation is the latest in a more than 40-year tradition of the display of temporary public art in our parks. Ai Weiwei joins an illustrious roster of artists who have displayed their art in New York City’s parks, including Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Olafur Eliasson, Manolo Valdes and many others. The City is proud to encourage these displays as we work to curate the world’s largest outdoor art museum.”
“Central Park – a work of art in its own right – is the perfect green setting for Ai Weiwei’s stunning sculpture,” said Douglas Blonsky, President of the Central Park Conservancy and Central Park Administrator. “As the Park is in full bloom and welcoming millions of visitors in the spring and summer months, this piece of public art serves as yet another attraction and a reminder of how lucky we are to have the Park’s 843 acres in the heart of Manhattan.”
“Exciting public art projects, like Ai Weiwei’s landmark Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads installation, help to make New York City a destination for artists and audiences from around the world,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin. “We look forward to hosting these larger than life sculptures, which we hope will intrigue and inspire New Yorkers and visitors alike.”
The show of Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads at the Pulitzer Fountain launches a multi-year international touring exhibition. Following the exhibition in New York City, the work travels to:
• Somerset House, London (May 12, 2011 – June 26, 2011)
• Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA (September 15, 2011 – March 15, 2012)
• Hermann Park, Houston, TX (Spring 2012)
• Warhol Museum & Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA (October 1 – December 31, 2012)
• Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (Fall 2012)