Open Today: 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.

Logo for: Farnsworth Art Museum

Ai Weiwei | Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold

March 24, 2018 – December 30, 2018

Exhibition Dates

March 24, 2018 – December 30, 2018

The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine presents a special exhibition of sculptural works by Chinese dissident-artist Ai Weiwei (b. 1957). Ai’s gilded bronze Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold series will be on display in the museum’s Rothschild Gallery through December 30, 2018. This will be the first presentation of the internationally-known artist’s works in Maine, and the first New England showing of his gilded Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads.

Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Bronze series—his first work of monumental public art—drew worldwide attention in spring 2011 when the artist was detained by Chinese authorities a month before the work debuted in New York City. Held incommunicado for eighty-one days, Ai Weiwei was released after an international protest campaign was mounted by museums, artists, and concerned citizens. Upon his release he was put under house arrest and forbidden to travel outside Beijing until July 2015.

A lively re-envisioning of the twelve animals of the ancient Chinese zodiac, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads dates back to a dark episode with respect to China’s relationship with the West. During the Second Opium War in 1860, the famed Yuanming Yuan (or Garden of Perfect Brightness) was destroyed and looted by British and French troops. An imperial retreat built a century earlier during the Qing Dynasty (1636 – 1912), the Yuanming Yuan featured an ornate, European-style section with grand fountains, gardens, and palaces. At its center was a splendid zodiac water-clock fountain with spouting bronze-headed figures representing the animals of the Chinese zodiac. The 12 animals marked the hours of the day. The entire complex was ransacked long ago, but in recent years the seven bronze zodiac heads that survive have become fraught symbols of the cultural achievements of the Qing era, the nation’s period of humiliation by the West. The original zodiac heads represent a powerful topic for contemporary China’s relationship with its own history. Seizing on the rich and contradictory symbolism of the heads, Ai Weiwei’s re-interpretation of this work is a powerful statement about the “fake” in relation to the “real.”

Ai’s exquisitely designed and fabricated golden Zodiac Heads are featured in this exhibit, the first presentation of the internationally known artist’s works in Maine. The Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Bronze and Gold series have been exhibited at over 40 international venues and counting since the official launch of this body of work in 2011. The Zodiac Heads have been seen by millions of people worldwide, making it one of the most viewed sculpture projects in the history of contemporary art.

Ai is recognized around the world as a creative force and cultural commentator, and he continues to redefine the role of both artist and activist. Ai was born in Beijing in 1957, to the renowned poet and intellectual Ai Qing. When his father was denounced in 1959 during the Anti-Rightist Movement, the family was sent to a labor camp in rural Xinjiang Province where Ai spent the next 16 years. After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the family returned to Beijing and Ai then studied at the Beijing Film Academy in 1978 before moving to the United States in 1981. After living in New York’s East Village for a decade, he returned to China in 1993 and helped establish the Beijing East Village contemporary art scene. In 2011, after a period of escalating conflict with Chinese authorities, Ai was arrested for purported tax evasion. In recent years Ai Weiwei has been living in Berlin, Germany.

Lead Exhibition Sponsor for Ai Weiwei | Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold: Mrs. F. Eugene Dixon
Midcoast Community Partners: 250 Main Hotel, Rheal Day Spa
Primary Media Sponsor: Maine Home + Design

This exhibition is presented at the Farnsworth Art Museum courtesy of Heather James Fine Art