Animal sightings are common in Jackson Hole, but the cultural significance of animals beyond the region will be further explored when the National Museum of Wildlife Art hosts Ai Weiwei’s “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” from May 9 through October 11, 2015. The monumental sculptural suite of 12 bronze heads representing the animals of the Chinese zodiac, by esteemed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, will be installed on the museum’s Sculpture Trail, overlooking the National Elk Refuge.
About the “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” installation:
• Each animal sculpture stands roughly ten feet tall and weighs about 800 pounds.
• The eleven actual animals (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig) and one mythical creature (dragon) are installed in the order of their appearance in the Chinese zodiac, prompting visitors to ask, “What’s your sign?”
• The sculptures re-envision the originals designed for the fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan (Garden of Perfect Brightness) in the 18th century during the Qing dynasty (1644–1912).
• The Yuanming Yuan was destroyed and looted by invading Europeans. Ai offers this body of work as a symbol of Chinese national pride, and as a representation of the issues of looting and repatriation.
The show arrives in Jackson after being exhibited in Mexico City, Chicago, London, Toronto, New York, São Paulo, Taipei, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C among other international venues. In addition to the sculptures, the exhibit offers a short video depicting the history of the work and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads.”
One of China’s most prolific and provocative contemporary artists, Ai Weiwei (b. 1957, Beijing) is known for such major projects as the installation of “Fairytale” at Documenta 12, in 2007, and his collaboration with architects Herzog & de Meuron on “The Bird’s Nest,” the main stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, as well as for his embrace of the Internet and social media as active platforms for commentary and as art forms in their own right. In 2012, Ai Weiwei received, from the Human Rights Foundation, the inaugural Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent.